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Why Obama's SOTU Is a Nod to 2016 and a Post-Obama Presidency

Why Obama’s speech was less about now and more about 2016 -- and beyond, and why it also sounded like a farewell address.
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Why Obama’s speech was less about now and more about 2016 -- and beyond… Why it also sounded like a farewell address… Where Obama’s rhetoric didn’t match the reality… My Private Idaho: Obama takes his State of the Union message on the road to Boise, ID… Breaking down the SOTU reaction from the 2016ers… Why Paul Ryan’s positive reaction to Obama’s speech is a big deal… Ernst performed as well as anyone could in one of the hardest acts in American politics… Both sides take hits on immigration... And don’t miss how the State of the Union played on Twitter last night.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Leigh Ann Caldwell.


*** Why Obama’s speech was less about now and more about 2016 -- and beyond: Maybe the best way to view President Obama’s confident and ambitious State of the Union address last night was him handing the political baton back to his party -- and likely Hillary Clinton -- essentially telling them: “Here are the issues worth fighting for in the coming years.” Paid sick/maternity leave. Free tuition for qualified community college students. More investment in America’s infrastructure. Tax cuts for the middle class. And, of course, higher taxes for the wealthy to pay for all of these things. “It’s now up to us to choose who we want to be over the next fifteen years, and for decades to come,” he said. Unlike in past State of the Union addresses and other speeches, Obama didn’t call on congressional Republicans to meet him halfway on certain issues. He didn’t latch on to certain GOP proposals. And he certainly didn’t acknowledge his party’s big defeat in last November’s midterm election. Instead, he focused on the future -- the future campaigns and the future legislative fights; it felt like the leader of a party laying out a platform. The chief reason why: As we’ve seen over the past four years, there isn’t much hope in divided government being able to accomplish big things, let alone the little ones. But it was still jarring, because his State of the Union sounded more like one a president gives in a campaign year, not one right after an election (especially an election your party just lost).

*** Why it also sounded like a farewell address: Also, if you want to know why President Obama’s State of the Union address last night sounded, at times, much like a farewell or valedictory speech -- “This is good news, people”; “I know because I won both of them” -- there’s a good reason: The 2016 campaign is coming, which will shift the political spotlight from the White House and Capitol Hill to the corn fields of Iowa and small towns of New Hampshire. Yes, he still has two years remaining in his presidency. And, yes, there’s certain to be activity and crises that will thrust Obama and the Congress to the forefront. But if 2007-2008 was any indication, Tuesday night was one of Obama’s last chances to OWN the stage; the race to succeed him ultimately will suck up most of the political oxygen as early as this spring/summer. Always has, always will. And realizing that fact, Obama seized on an opportunity where millions were tuning in to make his case to the American public -- on what has been accomplished during his presidency and where his party should go next. The recent positive public opinion response to some of his post-election decisions also seemed to give him extra confidence as he delivered last night’s address.

*** Where Obama’s rhetoric didn’t match the reality: Obama’s most off-key moment was his discussion on foreign policy. While he definitely believes he has been vindicated about Russia (with its tanking economy), his talk about what’s going on Iraq and Syria didn’t really match the reality on the ground there. Also where Obama’s rhetoric didn’t match the reality is when he called for “a better politics.” He said, “If we’re going to have arguments, let’s have arguments -- but let’s make them debates worthy of this body and worthy of this country.” But he didn’t say what HE would do differently; he essentially put the burden on Republicans to change their tone or behavior. And even if you believe you are in the right (as the president and his aides do), if you are trying to persuade an opponent to work with you, you need to at least act like you are willing to share the blame.

*** My Private Idaho: The day after his State of the Union, Obama hits the road, traveling to Boise, ID, where he speaks around 4:45 pm ET. It’s the president’s first visit to the state during his presidency. The Idaho Statesman: “The Boise State University engineering lab that President Barack Obama will tour Wednesday has contributed to Idaho’s high-tech economy since 2001, helping local industries and entrepreneurs develop new products and bring them to market... Its work is just the kind of higher education experience the president is seeking to highlight in his post-State of the Union tour. Along with his call for nationwide tuition-free community college, it represents the kind of educational opportunities he wants to see.” Obama then heads to Kansas, where he’ll speak on Thursday.

*** 2016ers react to Obama’s speech: Here’s the 2016 reaction to Obama’s speech:

  • Hillary Clinton embraced the speech, tweeting that Obama "pointed way to an economy that works for all. Now we need to step up & deliver for the middle class."
  • Jeb Bush: "It's unfortunate President Obama wants to use the tax code to divide us – instead of proposing reforms to create economic opportunity for every American. We can do better."
  • Mitt Romney: "True to form, the President in his State of the Union speech is more interested in politics than in leadership. More intent on winning elections than on winning progress... The best way to lower the tax burden on all American families is straightforward: lower rates and simplify the tax code."
  • Jim Webb: "Not a fan of the "middle class" lingo. Fighting for hard working Americans and small business isn’t about class."
  • Martin O'Malley: "The President's speech tonight reflected the urgency of that challenge. Eliminating tax preferences that benefit the very wealthy, expanding paid leave for working families, and investing in education will all help build a stronger middle class."
  • Ted Cruz: “Tonight the President told the American voters not only does he not hear their message, but he intends to do precisely the opposite... “Tonight, not a word was said about radical Islamic terrorism. Those words did not come out of the President's mouth." (In fact, Obama said the words "terrorism" or "terror" nine times.)

*** Paul Ryan’s positive reaction to Obama’s speech: Yet maybe the MOST INTERESTING reaction to Obama’s speech was from a Republican who isn’t running in 2016: Paul Ryan. On “Morning Joe,” Ryan praised the State of the Union – especially on taxes and trade – as much as he criticized it. “I agree with every word he said in the speech with respect to trade... We'll see if we can get a tax reform package done. I'm glad that he sort of held back on the partisanship and demagoguery,” Ryan said. If you’re the White House, that’s a big deal, because as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, he’s the gatekeeper for getting taxes and trade done in the 114th Congress. There truly hasn’t been a more important reaction we’ve seen.

*** 2016ers hit the road: Back to the potential 2016 field, there’s plenty of activity today. Clinton is giving speeches in Canada; Rand Paul addressed the Ripon Society, a GOP group; and Chris Christie attends Larry Hogan’s inauguration as Maryland governor.

*** “So you’re telling me there’s a chance…”: By the way, doing the morning-show rounds after last night’s speech, Vice President Biden said there’s “a chance” he could run in 2016. “Yes, there is a chance,” he told ABC. “But I haven’t made my mind up about that. We’ve got a lot of work to do between now and then. There’s plenty of time.” He added he’ll make up his mind later this summer. Our reaction is to quote the great line in “Dumb and Dumber:” “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.”

*** Ernst performs as well as anyone could in one of the hardest acts in American politics: Last week, we took pity on Sen. Joni Ernst when she was tapped as the Republican Party’s responder to Obama’s State of the Union -- because of the recent State of the Union Response Curse ™ (see Kathleen Sebelius, Bobby Jindal, Bob McDonnell, and Marco Rubio). But Ernst, like Cathy McMorris Rodgers last year, performed as well as anyone could under the circumstances. Folks, following the president of the United States -- with all of the applause and pageantry -- by speaking into a teleprompter is a tough, tough job.

*** Both sides take hits on immigration: Last night, both sides received criticism on immigration. For Obama and the Democrats, the president mentioned the words “immigration” just twice in his big speech. (Of course, a lot of that probably has to do with the fact that its chances of passage in the 114th Congress are slim to none, and with the fact that Obama has already taken his executive action on the subject.) For the Republicans, Ernst didn’t mention immigration at all – but their official Spanish-language response did. Politico: “Republicans sent mixed signals on immigration in their two official rebuttals to President Obama Tuesday night: Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst’s rebuttal made no mention of the topic, but the Spanish-language version of the rebuttal, delivered by Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo, said Republicans wanted to work with Obama to fix the immigration system.”

*** How the State of the Union played on Twitter: Lastly, don’t miss this piece by NBC’s Shaquille Brewster on how last night’s State of the Union played on Twitter:

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