5 things to watch for in President Obama’s state of the union address

A preview of what the U.S. president must do on Tuesday night
FILE – In this Jan. 24, 2012 file photo, President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington. As President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, Feb. 12, 2013, he presides over an economy much healthier than the one he inherited four years ago. Yet growth remains slow and unemployment high. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address in Washington on Jan. 24, 2012 file photo. /Evan Vucci/AP)

1. Economy, economy, economy

With U.S. unemployment remaining at 7.9 per cent and an economy that shrank in last quarter of 2012, Obama will have to present a strong economic plan. Watch for themes including infrastructure, manufacturing, clean energy and improved job training and education, which a White House aide flagged as areas that the president will address.

Obama was criticized for failing to address economic issues in a meaningful way during his inauguration speech. Now is his chance and he’s going to take it. “I’m going to be talking about making sure that we’re focused on job creation here in the United States of America,” Obama told Democrats at a gathering last week, reports ABC News.

2. Striking the right tone

Will Obama come out with a combative tone against Republicans? His liberal inauguration speech championed gay rights, gun control and immigration reform, but it’s possible he will take a more conciliatory tone in this speech, in an effort to strike a balance with the Republicans he has to work with to pass his very ambitious agenda.

Politico summarizes what the president will have to do: “as Obama prepares to move his agenda into legislation, he’ll need congressional — and at least some Republican — support. So he has to find a way to do both: Make a robust case for limiting guns, overhauling immigration and protecting entitlement programs but without alienating the party that controls the House and the ability to filibuster in the Senate.”

3. Gun control

Obama’s proposal for tougher gun regulations will most definitely be part of his state of the union address. Each member of Congress gets to invite one guest to the state of the union and, ABC reported last week, many Democrats are have offered those tickets to people who were victims of gun violence.

Guests in the audience will include residents of Newtown, Conn. and the parents of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old girl who was shot and killed in Chicago the week after she performed as part of Obama’s inauguration celebration.

4. The response from Rubio

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has been tasked with the very difficult job of responding to the president’s state of the union address. At 41, Rubio is one of the youngest senators and he is viewed as a rising star and a top contender for the 2016 presidential race.

Notably, the son of Cuban immigrants has taken a lead on the immigration-reform file. He will deliver the speech in both Spanish and English for the first time, an important move for a party that needs to shore up support among Latino voters if it wants to win the next presidency.

5. What Michelle Obama is wearing

On a lighter note, many observers say state of the union addresses are usually not the most important speeches. “Expect to forget what the president says. Nothing personal, Mr. President, but State of the Union addresses are notoriously forgotten,” writes CNN chief White House Correspondent Jessica Yellin.

For better or for worse, observers will likely remember what the fashionable First Lady wore. During Obama’s first state of the union address in 2009, her decision to bear her arms in a sleeveless black dress made headlines. Will show her shoulders again? Fashion observes are watching.