Last year 33.5 million people tuned in for President Obama's fifth State of the Union. That was the smallest SOTU audience since Bill Clinton's 2000 address and quite a drop from Obama's 2009 SOTU debut to 52.4 million people. Which direction will the numbers go this time? That's up for grabs, but here's one known number: seven. That's the number of things you need to know about what's to come at 9pm tonight:
- He's ready to go it alone. Obama plans to announce that he'll sign new executive orders, with the White House saying he's prepared to do so at a level never seen before. Chief among them: a bump in the minimum wage for federal contract workers from $7.25 to $10.10. Potentially also on the list: executive actions on job training, retirement security, infrastructure, climate change, and education.
- He wants to see the general minimum wage go even higher. Last year he called for the floor to be set at $9. This year he'll make the argument for $10.10 across the board, with future increases linked to inflation.
- Second verse, same as the first. The agenda he's expected to present will sound fairly deja vu-ish: immigration law overhaul, the minimum wage issue, expanded pre-school education.
- He'll tread carefully on immigration. Sources say Obama definitely won't go it alone here at this point, and on the hope that this is the year House Republican leaders will act, he's "reportedly holding his fire on shaming the GOP on immigration," writes Jay Newton-Small for Time. Expect to hear him "applaud bipartisan efforts to come up with a solution," agrees Carrie Budoff Brown at Politico.
- He's going to take credit for the economy. Writing for the AP, Jim Kuhnhenn is very clear on this point. "Obama will also feel compelled to take credit for an economy that by many indicators is gaining strength under his watch. As a result, he will talk positively about a recovery that remains elusive to many Americans." Some Democrats are wary of this tack, and possibly rightly so: An NBC News poll out yesterday found 70% of Americans are unhappy with the economy.
- We'll hear about ObamaCare. And it'll likely take up more space than the few sentences it occupied in 2012 and 2013, predicts Budoff Brown, who writes that "Obama will have to strike a positive tone about the law without sounding as though he's declaring 'mission accomplished,' because there is still a lot of work to do."
- What's at stake: At CNN, John King points out that Obama's 2013 SOTU bore no fruit, with Congress ignoring "his calls for a new jobs program, for new gun controls and for sweeping immigration reform. Because of that, the 2014 speech is viewed by strategists in both parties as part of a defining test: Can Obama rebuild his standing enough to force action on some of his priorities, or will 2014 instead be remembered as another frustrating year of gridlock and the gateway to 'lame duck' status? To that end, many see this speech—this wish list—as potentially his last chance for significant action."
reports that in a first, two women will give the GOP's rebuttal: Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Spanish version) and Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. In addition, Utah Sen. Mike Lee will offer up the Tea Party's rebuttal, notes Time,
and last year's Tea Party speaker, Rand Paul, will give his own rebuttal via social media.