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SOTU: Forget Bipartisanship, It’s Time to Get Dirty
President Obama’s speech tonight is shaping up to be a wonkier sequel to his unabashedly liberal Inaugural Address, which has Washington wondering if the president will find some way to reach out to Republicans.
But the whole discussion over olive branches and aisle crossing misses the point. It doesn't matter whether or how Obama uses his speech to reach out to the GOP. Republicans are almost certainly going to pan it as an overreach as they try to yank the debate rightward.
What the president should do—and what few are talking about—is signal that he’s willing to do the messy work of legislating. Both Democrats, privately, and Republicans, publicly, grouse that the president is more interested in campaigning than sitting down with congressional leaders to do the hard work of lawmaking—witness Obama’s plan to reinforce tonight’s speech with campaign-style swings this week through North Carolina, Atlanta, and Chicago.
Still, there does seem to be some hope. Democratic senators working on immigration reform plan to brief Obama later this week. If Obama uses his speech to signal an openness to similar meetings with congressional leaders of both parties, he may just get something done.
MEDAL OF HONOR WINNER TURNS DOWN FIRST LADY'S SOTU INVITE. Clint Romesha, a staff sergeant who was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama on Monday, has turned down an invite to be first lady Michelle Obama’s guest, The Hill reports. "I've done some soul searching," Romesha said today on CNN, explaining that he would watch the speech with friends from his former unit and his wife. "As much as a great honor it would be to be a guest of the first lady, it's also kind of hard to break away from the friends and the family and all the great guys here." Read more
OBAMA WILL ANNOUNCE 34,000 TROOPS LEAVING AFGHANISTAN. The president will announce the withdrawal of 34,000 troops from Afghanistan within the year in his speech, Politico reported. The administration continues to debate post-2014 troop levels in the country, with possible scenarios reportedly including no troops or as many as 20,000. Read more
IT COULD BE A LONG NIGHT. Have plans at 10 p.m.? According to The Washington Post, you may want to reconsider, as the length of the SOTU has gotten much longer. During former President Carter’s time, the average speech length was about 36 minutes. Under the current president, it has ballooned to about 1 hour and 5 minutes. Bill Clinton holds the all-time record of 1 hour, 28 minutes, 49 seconds.
EXPECT A FORGETTABLE SOTU. When Obama takes to the speaker's rostrum on the floor of the House of Representatives this evening, you can expect him to speak for more than an hour. But don't bet on him saying anything you'll remember a month later, as National Journal’s George E. Condon Jr. explains. Read More
- North Korea’s nuclear test on Monday is an embarrassment to Obama, who has pushed nuclear nonproliferation, but the White House tells NJ it will not change the speech.
RUBIO’S REBUTTAL WON’T BE ANY BETTER. Rebuttals from both parties have a long history of being ineffective and soon-forgotten. But Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., can take solace in the fact that three future presidents have delivered State of the Union rebuttals and that only Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has suffered lasting political damage—for a 2009 speech that drew comparisons between the governor and the page on 30 Rock, Kenneth Parcell. Read More
- “It is actually an awful job to have.” —Norm Ornstein, The American Enterprise Institute
ARMED SERVICES TO VOTE ON HAGEL NOMINATION. The Senate Armed Services Committee is expected to vote on the nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel for secretary of Defense today. He is expected to clear the committee, where there are more Democrats than Republicans, but some GOP senators have raised the possibility of blocking a floor vote. Read more
CHENEY: HAGEL A REPUBLICAN STALKING HORSE FOR OBAMA. Though former Vice President Dick Cheney counts himself a fan of the president’s drone program, he says Obama is planning to weaken the military and criticized the picks of Chuck Hagel and John Brennan to lead Defense and the CIA, respectively. "I think he wants a Republican to be the foil ... for what he wants to do to the Defense Department, which I think is to do serious, serious damage to our military capabilities," Cheney said on CBS’s This Morning. Read more
PALIN REACTS TO FALSE REPORT THAT SHE JOINED AL JAZEERA. After a blogger for The Washington Post erroneously reported that Sarah Palin had been hired by Al Jazeera America as a host, the former Alaska governor reacted in a series of snarky Tweets, including this one: “Hey @washingtonpost, I'm having coffee with Elvis this week. He works at the Mocha Moose in Wasilla.” Read more
SENATE REAUTHORIZES VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN ACT. The bill passed 78-22, The Hill reports, and while a group of 17 House Republicans have written a letter urging leadership to bring a bipartisan bill to the floor, it’s unclear what the legislation’s future holds in that chamber. Read more
IN FAREWELL, PANETTA CALLS SEQUESTER ‘SELF-INFLICTED’ WOUND. In a farewell address in the courtyard of the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta addressed anxiety felt by military personnel caused by the prospect of looming sequester cuts, saying “I will continue in whatever capacity to urge the Congress to establish some budget certainty. There [is] no reason why we should engage in a self-inflicted wound in this country.” Read the speech here
PRESIDENTIAL ROAD TRIP BEGINS. Obama will be hitting the road after his speech tonight, visiting North Carolina on Wednesday, Georgia on Thursday, and Chicago on Friday, where he’ll discuss some of the proposals unveiled in the address. Read more
LEW SET FOR CONFIRMATION HEARING. Jacob Lew, Obama’s pick for Treasury secretary, will appear before the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday. Most likely, Republicans will confirm him—but not without grilling him on his his time at Citigroup and his plans for Treasury, tax reform, and future fiscal battles. Read more
THE SENATE’S TURN ON IMMIGRATION. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, a former Arizona governor, will address the Senate Judiciary Committee about comprehensive immigration reform at a hearing on Wednesday. Read more
HOUSE GOP MAY TACKLE FEDERAL PAY. The House Rules Committee has scheduled a meeting for Wednesday that could clear a bill for floor voting that would keep federal pay frozen for the remainder of the year. A coalition of unions and other organizations are urging House members to vote against the bill. Read more
'THE POPE AND THE SPY WHO LOVED HIM.' Calling it an “unprecedented breach of security that shook the Vatican,” GQ this month offers a blow-by-blow account of how someone was able to leak information last year from the normally impregnable living quarters of the pope. Depending on whom you believe, it was anyone from the pope’s butler to a cadre of 20 moles. GQ’s Sean Flynn “digs around the Vatican's strange, cloistered world and unravels a cloak-and-dagger scandal that's a lot more layered than the Church would have you believe—and that may be just the beginning,” as the magazine puts it. Read more
"The only time I got anointed was when I was baptized and confirmed, OK?" —Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., telling union workers in Worcester that he isn't counting on Washington support in the Massachusetts Senate primary, Boston Globe, 2/12.
TODAY'S KEY INDICATOR
WHAT PRICE NATIONAL TELEVISION? Just how eager are lawmakers to nab the coveted aisle seat and get their few seconds of glad-handing with the president on national television during the State of the Union? Reps. Al Green, D-Texas, and Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., were spotted squatting on aisle seats at 10:45 a.m. today—roughly 10 hours before the address.
WHOM TO WATCH FOR AT SOTU. The State of the Union can be like Washington’s Oscars night—complete with red carpet. While the president’s speech will send a message, so too will the faces in the audience. Here are some to look for:
- Desiline Victor, a 102-year-old woman who waited three hours to vote in Florida this past election, will be a guest of first lady Michelle Obama. Read more
- At least five illegal immigrants have been invited to the State of the Union, including a 20-year-old Nevada man who will be another of the first lady’s guests. Read more
- Michelle Obama will also be sitting with Cleopatra Pendleton, the mother of the Chicago teen who was shot and killed just weeks after performing at the president’s inauguration. A girl from Newtown, Conn., will attend with her mother as a guest of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords will be the guest of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz. At least 22 other members of Congress have invited victims of gun violence as guests.
- Not to be outdone by Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, who is bringing Ted Nugent to the big speech, Pelosi has invited Tony Bennett and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley as her guests. Read more
- Here’s a big list of the guests, courtesy of CBS.