Diane Sawyer and I had lunch with the president and other television news anchors today in an annual White House tradition on State of the Union day. The President sounded determined and quite upbeat ahead of the speech tonight. He surely doesn’t seem to be losing any sleep or wringing his hands over the Democrats’ loss in Massachusetts. Details and quotes from the meeting are off the record – but here are some overall impressions:
The White House has three major objectives with the speech:
1. Remind people that this was never going to be easy. Economic recovery takes time.
2. We shouldn’t expect to see any kind of apology from the president tonight. He’ll express his commitment to his vision for the country and what he wants to accomplish.
3. Remind Americans that he’s not insulated from how people are feeling during difficult times.
There’s no question that the economy and jobs will be the top focus of the speech tonight. The White House expects tonight’s proposals to jumpstart job creation – something of such importance to this White House that we can expect the President to urge Congress to act first on these job proposals, even before health care.
On health care, Obama seemed resolute, with no plans to backtrack or give up.
We can also expect the president to address bipartisanship in his speech tonight. It’s clear that he is greatly frustrated that the overall tenor of Washington has not changed despite his efforts at outreach across the aisle.
As we walked out of the lunch, I couldn’t help thinking that if Obama compares himself to any other president, it seems to me to be Ronald Reagan. Despite ultimately having an enormously popular presidency, at this point in his presidency — just one year in — Reagan had lower approval ratings than Obama does now and faced an array of economic challenges.