The President and his administration have been widely calling the speech a “non-traditional” one, where instead of directly laying out policy proposals during his last year in office, he’ll be discussing more long-term visions for America and highlighting his major accomplishments.
That doesn’t mean policy is exempt from the conversation. There are still some big issues on his plate going into his final months before a new leader is elected. Here’s what to watch for tonight.
1. Trade & The Trans-Pacific Partnership
The Trans-Pacific Partnership, if approved, would be a cornerstone of Obama’s economic legacy. Obama has been firm in his support for and intent to sign the deal, and the administration has made it a priority. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest categorized criminal justice reform and the TPP as two of the priorities Obama will likely highlight.
“The President’s main focus will be on the opportunities and challenges that are facing the country not just in the year ahead, but what’s critical are the kinds of decisions that we make now will have a significant impact on not just the next generation of Americans but future generations of Americans,” Earnest said in a press briefing Monday afternoon.
2. The Economic Recovery
An NBC and Wall Street Journal poll released in December found about 7 in 10 Americans were unhappy with the direction of the country and prioritized terrorism and national security as a top concern. But with markets globally going haywire and making big headlines, it’s likely Obama will shine a bit of a spotlight on the U.S.’s progress under his leadership. Josh Earnest hinted that this could include ongoing talks about the pressures facing the middle class.
3. Nikki Haley’s Response for the Republicans
A rising star in the GOP, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is giving the rebuttal to the State of the Union tonight. Haley is well-respected, and her national profile has continued to rise, especially after her swift response to the recent shooting of nine people at Mother Emmanuel AME church, and her move to take down the Confederate Flag from the State House grounds.
4. A Hillary Clinton Boost?
Much of the news cycle has shifted to the campaign circuit, and tonight could be an important transition for the candidates. Pundits are speculating that if Obama’s speech outlines his legacy and his ongoing vision for the country, it could appear as though he’s handing the baton to Hillary Clinton. Clinton is being largely discussed as the candidate most likely to continue Obama’s agenda and policies. It will be an interesting situation, as recent polls have shown a closing gap between Clinton and Bernie Sanders ahead of the Iowa caucus at the start of February.