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Obama grasps for momentum in 2014 State of the Union address

Obama will seize one of his diminishing windows to command the domestic political stage and literally talk over the heads of lawmakers blocking his agenda to speak directly to the American people

OBAMA'S FIFTH SOTU. US President Barack Obama will deliver his 5th State of the Union (SOTU) Address on Tuesday, January 28 (Wednesday, January 29, in the Philippines). File photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP

WASHINGTON DC, USA – In the sixth year of a battered presidency and confounded by recalcitrant Republicans, President Barack Obama will try to loosen his political straitjacket in his annual State of the Union address.

Obama will seize one of his diminishing windows on Tuesday, January 28 (Wednesday, January 29, in the Philippines), to command the domestic political stage and literally talk over the heads of lawmakers blocking his agenda to speak directly to the American people.

Fighting off the curse of the second term lame duck, Obama hopes to rebound from a disastrous 2013, scarred by Republican obstruction and self-inflicted wounds.

The annual address will also help him landscape the political terrain ahead of November mid-term elections, in which Obama‘s Democratic Party is in peril of losing its hold on the Senate.

“This is not a State of the Union speech exclusively,” said Robert Lehrman, who penned addresses for former vice president Al Gore and key congressional Democratic leaders.

“It is a state of the Obama administration speech,” said Lehrman, a communications professor at American University.

Just a year after laying out a liberal agenda pulsating with ambition, Obama‘s agenda risks being stillborn due to blocking tactics of Republicans who control the House of Representatives and can jam up the Senate.

Still, he is expected to voice plans to raise the minimum wage, extend long-term unemployment benefits, expand pre-school education and quicken jobs growth.

He will frame his priorities in a call to arms to battle rising income inequality, which he sees as the “defining challenge of our time.”

The theme will anchor Obama‘s remaining three years in office and ultimately his legacy.

Obama warned in a speech in December that a “dangerous and growing inequality and lack of upward mobility” is stifling America’s basic bargain – “that if you work hard you have a chance to get ahead.”

‘Obama will not wait for Congress’

As Obama gazes out at lawmakers, Supreme Court Justices, cabinet members and military brass in the House of Representatives, he will know his hopes of enacting major legislation are not promising.

So the White House is warning he will wield his executive power to their limits and Obama will launch a political swing next week to build pressure on Republicans.

“When American jobs and livelihoods depend on getting something done, he will not wait for Congress,” Obama‘s top political adviser Dan Pfeiffer told supporters in an email Saturday.

“President Obama has a pen and he has a phone, and he will use them to take executive action and enlist every American.”

Obama‘s speech will be closely watched for signs of contrition over the botched rollout of his signature health care reform law last year.

But he is expected to argue that after teething problems, the new law is beginning to prosper. The administration says 3 three million people have now chosen plans under Obamacare. (READ: US ready to usher in ‘Obamacare’)

While the address will dwell mostly on domestic challenges, US allies and foes will watch to see if Obama defends an interim nuclear deal with Iran, amid deep skeptics in Congress.

Tuesday’s televised address, at 9:00 pm (10:00 am Philippine time on Wednesday) is an important moment for Obama, not just because he needs to reinvigorate his presidency.

The inexorable clock that all second-term presidents race is winding down. And although Obama has nearly three years in office, his capacity to dominate the political conversation, at home at least, will soon ebb.

By this time next year, 2016 candidates will be taking aim at the White House, hijacking media attention and draining the president’s momentum.

History also shows that second-term presidents who get into trouble rarely escape – and Obama‘s approval ratings are languishing in perilous territory at around 40 percent.

Still, the president retains the loudest voice in Washington’s shrill political arena and the State of the Union address can help set the agenda, said Georgia State University communications professor Mary Stuckey, who has written nine books about presidential rhetoric.

“There is really good evidence that what the president talks about in the State of the Union is what the media talk about, is what common people talk about, is what officials talk about,” she said.

Obama‘s spokesman Jay Carney said the president will not trim his sails just because the political weather is threatening.

“There aren’t many opportunities that a president gets to speak on primetime television to talk about his or her agenda for the country moving forward,” he said.

“Millions of Americans are tuning in and the president is speaking to every American.”

While Obama may not stir the excitement he once did, there is some evidence that his decision to engage as a champion of upward mobility may be bearing fruit.

Several key Republicans, including potential 2016 candidates like Congressman Paul Ryan and Senator Marco Rubio, have also begun to talk about poverty and the struggles of those in the middle class to maintain their station.

So there is some hope in the White House that political room may open up for some of Obama‘s priorities.

Cracks may also be appearing in the dam of Republican opposition on immigration reform as the party worries about alienating key Hispanic voters in another election. –