Melissa Block talks to Mara Liasson about what President Obama might address in his State of the Union speech.
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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And we turn now to the big political news of the day. In a matter of hours President Obama will deliver his State of the Union address to Congress, the first of his second term. Tens of millions of Americans will be watching as the president lays out his agenda and picks up where he left off in his inaugural address last month. He's expected to focus on job creation and talk about how leveling the playing field to give everyone a fair shot will help the economy grow.
But his speech won't be bound entirely by talk of jobs. President Obama is also expected to touch on a wide range of subjects from guns, Afghanistan and immigration to cyber security and the overnight nuclear weapons test by North Korea. Joining me for a look ahead is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. And, Mara, what are you especially going to be listening for tonight?
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Well, I'm going to be listening for the tone of the president's address. You know, if the inaugural address is where the president writes the music, the State of the Union is where he gets to write the lyrics. And it's a more programmatic address but the inaugural address was really notable for how little he tried to offer an olive branch to the other side. It was a very progressive, assertive full-throated vision of activist government.
And I want to see, tonight, is how confident is the president that he can demand concessions from the Republicans, that he can divide and conquer them or that he himself will have to compromise.
BLOCK: State of the Union addresses, Mara, are to typically where you get big sweeping policy ideas from a president, some minor policy ideas but not a big strategic plan.
LIASSON: Well, in this case we won't be getting any sweeping new policy proposals because so many of the president's big policy proposals for this term are already underway. State of the Unions sometimes are places where presidents do unveil big packages of legislative action. But in this case, gun control is already on the Hill and immigration reform is already on the Hill. And we know where the president is in the budget battles. He's in the midst of them with Republicans and he's been speaking out about how he wants a balanced approach to deficit reduction.
But I do think we're going to hear him talk about new numbers of troops returning from Afghanistan on the timetable that he's set. I think we'll hear maybe some new details about the executive actions he plans to take on climate change, maybe some new details about education, making voting easier, and those are the things that I think he'll flesh out tonight. We're also going to hear him say something he has talked about in the past, which is he wants more investments in education, infrastructure, clean energy and manufacturing.
BLOCK: The president and Congress are also nearing another fiscal cliff, Mara, the across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester heading our way March 1. How do you expect the president to take that on tonight?
LIASSON: Well, this is an opportunity for the president to use the biggest megaphone he has with tens of millions of people listening to him. So in terms of the back and forth on the sequester, he's got a great platform tonight. He feels he has the public on his side. He feels the Republicans are divided and he wants to replace the sequester, the automatic across-the-board spending cuts, with some spending cuts and some revenue hikes: about one-and-a-half times spending cuts to every one tax dollar raised.
And he wants to raise the revenue in the form of closing tax loopholes, mainly the ones that benefit the wealthy. And I think he feels he's on strong ground with that, but we'll be watching for clues to see how far he feels he has to go on entitlements, on cuts or changes to Medicare and Social Security, in order to get a deal with the Republicans.
BLOCK: And, Mara, after the president speaks the official Republican response is going to come from Florida Senator Marco Rubio. He'll be speaking both English and Spanish. There will also be a Tea Party response from Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.
LIASSON: Yes. You're almost seeing the first act of the 2016 Republican presidential primary play out. You've got Rand Paul who's giving the Tea Party response and Marco Rubio who's, as you said, the official Republican response. He's young, he's Hispanic, he's a rising star. He's taking the lead on immigration from the Republican side. And a lot of people are going to be tuning in to see how he doe
BLOCK: OK. NPR national political correspondent, Mara Liasson with a preview of tonight's State of the Union. Mara, thanks so much.
LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.