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State Of The Union Message To Focus On Economy


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

President Obama goes before a joint session of Congress tomorrow evening to deliver his State of the Union message. White House briefers say the president plans to bring the national conversation back to the economy, after weeks of focusing on immigration and gun violence.

Here for more insight is Cokie Roberts, who joins us most Mondays. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: So given the fact that the president and Congress are still at loggerheads about the across-the-board spending cuts that are scheduled to take place in a couple of weeks, what can the president say about the economy tomorrow night that could change anything in Congress?

ROBERTS: Well, probably not a whole lot. Yesterday on NBC the House majority leader, Eric Cantor, said that the president can't raise taxes every three months. He repeated that a couple of times. Mr. Obama is expected to say he wants to close some tax loopholes for the wealthy to - in order to not cut so much out of spending. Cantor says he - the president wants to close those loopholes to bring down - that he wants to close those loopholes to bring down the rates. So that fight is still very much there.

But I think that the president is going to talk about things that are needed in the economy: infrastructure, education, talk about what immigration means for the economy. But all of that does run up against concept of the debt and the idea that the debt is the most important thing. And polls are showing that many Americans do see the deficit as the number one issue.

And the president is expected to say that if entitlements do not come under control, that they will then crowd out all the other programs. So that's an appeal to his liberal Democrats, to say to them, look, we can't just let this go on and on and on.

He'll make his case tomorrow night and then he goes on the road to promote it. And that trip - he's going to Asheville, North Carolina, Atlanta, Georgia - that trip might be more important than speech itself. The president's people are talking about energizing the people who turned out for him in the campaign, and getting those people to turn out to lobby Congress.

MONTAGNE: You know, though, how important are State of the Union speeches, Cokie? And every year, we pay - we, the press, pay a lot of attention to them. But does the general public care?

ROBERTS: Well, people do tune in. And often political experts will say, oh, the speech was too long or too detailed or too boring. And then it will turn out that the public loved it. So you know, that is something to always keep in mind. It is the president's opportunity to get everyone's attention focused on him and his program.

And then there's always the response. Now, I always think the response is a problem, because there's the president in the hall of the House of Representatives, with the flag behind him and George Washington on one side and Lafayette on the other, and people cheering. And then there's some poor soul in a room with a teleprompter. But Marco Rubio is the chosen one this year. And he is becoming the great hope of the Republican Party.

I think that you can expect him to say a few words in Spanish, if not more than a few words. And we'll see how he does. It's not an easy job, this response to the State of the Union.

MONTAGNE: OK. Well, we'll be watching tomorrow night. Political commentator Cokie Roberts, thanks very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Motagne
Cokie Roberts was one of the 'Founding Mothers' of NPR who helped make that network one of the premier sources of news and information in this country. She served as a congressional correspondent at NPR for more than 10 years and later appeared as a commentator on Morning Edition. In addition to her work for NPR, Roberts was a political commentator for ABC News, providing analysis for all network news programming.