President Barack Obama on Tuesday night will deliver his last State of the Union address, a speech that advisers say will be an upbeat appraisal of the country’s future that will be aimed more at Americans watching at home than the lawmakers in the Capitol.
Obama has indicated he will forgo the traditional laundry list of new proposals and instead offer a broad vision of where the United States should head in the future in the nationally televised address scheduled for 9 p.m.
Obama will serve up that optimistic forecast amid a torrent of criticism and bleak assessments of the state of the country raised by a dozen Republican presidential candidates as they campaign in the early primary states with the Iowa caucus less than three weeks away.
Obama will be speaking to an American public that includes many unhappy and even angry voters. A Jan. 6 Reuters/Ipsos Public Affairs poll found that 59 percent of those surveyed said America is on the wrong track, and only 27 percent said it was on the right track.
And in the wake of Islamic State group-related attacks and San Bernardino, California, American confidence in the government’s handling of terrorism has dropped to a post-9/11 low, to 46 percent, according to a Dec. 15 Pew Research survey.
But Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff, on Sunday said, “You will hear a big, optimistic, generous view of the future of America from the president.”
In a video released by the White House, Obama said he’ll discuss “not just the remarkable progress we’ve made, not just what I want to get done in the year ahead, but what we all need to do together in the years to come — the big things that will guarantee an even stronger, better, more prosperous America for our kids.”
And he’s expected to set a policy and issue framework for Democrats running for the White House and Congress this year, touching on criminal justice reform, and addressing gun crime and mass shootings.
As a symbol of those issues, one seat in the gallery beside the first lady, Michelle Obama, will be left empty to represent the victims of gun violence.
The White House also is employing social media to reach more viewers: The address will be streamed live on YouTube and behind-the-scenes images of the speech will be posted on a new Snapchat account.
This year, Obama again will travel in the week after the address to spread his message. This year he’ll go to Omaha, Nebraska, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
After the speech Tuesday night, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley will deliver the Republican response.