U.S. President Barack Obama is set to deliver his sixth State of the Union address Tuesday, at a time when his approval rating is inching higher as more Americans see the economy improving. The president’s State of the Union speech is expected to be his shortest yet after he spent last week previewing some themes of the address, including tax hikes for the wealthiest Americans, free community college tuition and paid sick leave. Here are six things to know about the State of the Union speech:
1) What time is the State of the Union address? Obama will deliver his message to Congress at 9 p.m. EST Tuesday.
2) How pithy will Obama be? Pundits expect the president to give his shortest State of the Union address, according to Politico, but exactly how short is anyone’s guess. The fewest words Obama has spoken was 5,902 in February 2009, which was technically not a State of the Union address but still a speech to the full Congress. That speech lasted just over 51 minutes. Obama has averaged about 7,000 words in his State of the Union speeches, or about 1 hour and 4 minutes, according to the American Presidency Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Tuesday’s speech is expected to take about an hour, according to the Washington Post.
3) What will Obama say? The president’s nationwide tour over the last week gives an indication of what he’ll talk about Tuesday night. The speech should be heavy on economic issues, like paid sick leave, tax increases for the richest Americans, a reduction in the percentage of mortgage insurance premiums for federally backed loans, and free community college tuition for high school graduates.
That’s not to say that the president will ignore foreign policy. When Obama gave his State of the Union Speech last year, most Americans were unaware of the Islamic State militant group, also known as ISIS, that now controls large parts of Iraq and Syria. And the president’s decision to take steps to normalize relations with Cuba may also make it into his speech.
4) Who will be there? The president, vice president, Congress, the first lady and cabinet members won’t be the only ones on the floor of the House of Representatives to hear the State of the Union. As has been tradition, the White House invites guests. This year’s special guests range from Alan Gross, the imprisoned American recently released from a Cuban prison, to Malik Bryant, a 13-year-old from Chicago who asked Santa Claus for safety instead of a new toy. Check out the full list of guests here.
5) What did Obama say about the big speech? The president admitted he still gets a little case of State of the Union jitters. “After the sixth time I suspect that I’m a little more relaxed and a little better at it than I was the first time out, but you never get completely used to it,” Obama said in a pre-State of the Union sit-down interview posted to the White House’s State of the Union website. “There’s a certain pageantry to it. The sergeant of arms announces you and you’re walking down that aisle and you’re reminded of the incredible privilege you have and being the president, and hopefully all the members of Congress that are there are reminded that we get these positions for a finite amount of time and we have to make the most of it when we have it.”
6) Will there be any surprises? Obama’s tour served as a roadmap for his State of the Union speech, but we still may see some surprises, according to some pundits. “I think the biggest possible surprise would be a carbon tax -- he might say that energy will never be lower so now is the time to place a carbon tax with the proceeds going to Social Security and take advantage of the windfall for the good of all,” Mark Penn, a former pollster and strategist for Bill and Hillary Clinton, told Politico. “You are a lot more likely, though, to hear some tough language on ISIS and talk right upfront on how our economy and jobs outlook are improving.”
The surprise may not necessarily be a policy proposal, according to GOP strategist Ron Bonjean. “The surprise of the night will likely be that President Obama will not make any significant programs or policy announcements, but he will instead simply remind Americans he is still very relevant after the November elections,” he told Politico. “That’s why he will deliver a political speech in order to spin up the liberal wing of his party and to define and marginalize the Republican Party as the country slowly heads toward the 2016 elections.”