By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )
THE REPUBLICAN PRE-BUTTAL
-BOEHNER'S BRICK WALL: House Speaker John Boehner poured cold water on President Obama's idea to increase minimum wage to federal contract workers, declaring: "It will affect absolutely no one." An early sense of the GOP's response to the president's plan to use more executive actions to bypass Congress was met by this blunt statement from Boehner this morning over breakfast with network anchors and correspondents, ABC's JEFF ZELENY reports. The speaker said the president ignores the Congress and Constitution at his own political peril if he hopes to go it alone. "If he tries to ignore this, he's going to run into a brick wall." That said, Boehner said his relationship with Obama is just fine. It will be tested, of course, on the debt ceiling in the coming weeks. As for health care, Boehner said the new law will "crash on its own," a sign that Republicans won't keep trying to repeal it. All the terse talk in the Speaker's conference room also included this ray of optimism: "Just because we have divided government, doesn't mean it has to be dysfunctional."
-THE REPUBLICANS' 'SECOND SCREEN': House Speaker John Boehner's office is reminding Americans "to make SOTU.gop.gov your 'second screen' tonight." According to a Boehner aide, "Through SOTU.gop.gov, you will be able to: Watch an enhanced version of the State of the Union, featuring real-time fact-checking and exclusive photos and graphics; Watch an enhanced version of the Republican Address to the Nation by House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), which will also include exclusive information; Engage on Twitter with Republican leaders and lawmakers, who will be providing rapid video responses through Vine. Help share the facts and spread the word to friends and family across your social networks; and much more."
TUNE IN TONIGHT: ABC'S FULL COVERAGE OF THE STATE OF THE UNION. ABC News will broadcast President Obama's State of the Union address with coverage by "World News" Anchor DIANE SAWYER and "Good Morning America" Anchor GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS live from Washington, D.C. After the address, ABC will carry the Republican response. Coverage begins tonight at 9:00 p.m., ET. The ABC News political team including Chief White House Correspondent JONATHAN KARL, Chief Global Affairs Correspondent MARTHA RADDATZ and Senior Washington Correspondent JEFF ZELENY will join Sawyer and Stephanopoulos to preview potential topics before the address and dissect the material immediately following the broadcast. Analysis by ABC News Contributors Matthew Dowd, Donna Brazile and David Plouffe will round out the line-up.
ABC NEWS DIGITAL will live-stream the President's State of the Union address, the Republican response and ABC News' coverage on ABCNews.com, Yahoo! News, GoodMorningAmerica.com, ABC News' iPad, iPhone and Windows 8 apps and ABC affiliate websites. WATCH LIVE COVERAGE HERE: http://abcnews.go.com/Live/
SOCIAL MEDIA: ABC News has partnered with Facebook to display on screen exclusive, real-time information about what's trending on the platform during the president's speech across various demographics.
ABC's RICK KLEIN: It's hard to remember a year with as little excitement surrounding a State of the Union as 2014. Blame it on the overall awfulness of last year, or blame it on year six of a presidency, or blame it on the expectations set by this president. At the same time, though, you could argue that President Obama has never had more at stake in one of these speeches than he does this year - precisely because so much of the country is starting to tune him out. The "year of action" is a course taken out of necessity - mainly because a presidency built on the power of words has found itself stalled. Nothing about the current trajectory will change on its own, not with the midterm elections promising to ratify the current divisions. In that context, the only way the president can claim to be relevant is to make himself so. That involves far more than speeches - as Obama has learned all too well.
ABC's JEFF ZELENY: One word we'll hear a lot tonight: Opportunity. President Obama will use his State of the Union address as a moment to call for expanding opportunities for the middle class, the long-term unemployed and others who are still striving to reach the American Dream. But as he heads headlong into the sixth year of his term, a historically bruising time for a president's party in Congressional elections, the speech is a critical opportunity of a different kind: for the president to rebuild his brand. Not only for his sake, but for the sake of Democrats sitting in the audience whose names are on the ballot this year and whose fortunes are on the line. If the president can lift his own approval and restore a sense of confidence, they will benefit. If not, the president may be delivering his address next year to a Congress fully controlled by Republicans.
ABC's GARY LANGER: In December an ABC News/Washington Post poll found 66 percent support for raising the minimum wage, even with the explicit counter-argument that it could lead some employers to cut jobs. Forty-eight percent "strongly" supported it, a high level of strong support, far surpassing the 20 percent strongly opposed. We also asked people what the minimum wage should be. Among those who supported raising it, the average answer was $10.25, much like the $10.10 the president has picked. Details here: http://bit.ly/M9obcj
HERE'S HOW YOU GET TO SIT WITH THE FIRST LADY AT THE STATE OF THE UNION. Tonight, First Lady Michelle Obama will welcome guests into her box for the State of the Union, including two survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing, the fire chief from the tornado ravaged town of Moore, Oklahoma, and a sixteen year old whiz kid who impressed President Obama when he launched a marshmallow across the East Room at a White House science fair two years ago. But how exactly does the First Lady's office decide who will have the honor of being showcased at the State of the Union? ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ found out a few secrets to scoring one of the most coveted seats in the House in an interview with Anita McBride, who served as chief of staff to First Lady Laura Bush from 2005 to 2009. http://abcn.ws/1mRmDiT
THE STRANGEST STATE OF THE UNION RITUALS. Wondering how your small-town congressman scored a front-row seat at the State of the Union address and managed to shake hands with the president, enjoying a couple seconds in the spotlight? Or why, even when surrounded by hundreds of raucous members of Congress, Supreme Court Justices who attend the speech remain almost statue still? And what would happen if an unthinkable tragedy were to strike the U.S. House chamber during the big event, taking out the president, vice president, the cabinet and most of Congress all at once? The answers lie here in ABC's ALI DUKAKIS' list of the seven strangest State of the Union rituals: http://abcn.ws/MoIUJY
AMONG TONIGHT'S SPECIAL GUESTS: Fort Lee, New Jersey Mayor Mark Sokolich, whose town was at the center of Gov. Chris Chrsitie's George Washington Bridge scandal, is expected to attend the State of the Union tonight. Sokolich will attend as a guest of Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., Pascrell's spokesman confirmed to ABC News.
DEAR CONGRESS, I QUIT! TREY RADEL'S ODDLY UPBEAT GOODBYE TO CAPITOL HILL. Last October Congressman Trey Radel was arrested for cocaine possession. Then he pleaded guilty in a Washington, DC Superior Court, which got him one year's probation. By late November he was checking himself into a Florida rehab facility. And although he returned to Congress after the new year, on Monday he called it quits - reportedly under pressure from Republican Congressional leaders. It was a steep - and rapid - downhill slide for the first-term Republican from south Florida who coasted into Congress in 2012 only to see his political career fall into shambles just over a year later. Which is what makes the tone of optimism in his resignation letter so striking. "This year has been tremendously positive as I focus on my health, family and faith," he wrote, referring to his "personal struggles" only in passing. Radel declared himself an "eternal optimist" and said he would take "friendships and memories of great men and women" back to Florida with him. And he didn't stop there: "I know there are great things in store for our country when we find ways to work together," he wrote. http://abcn.ws/1esUkTb
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
HILLARY CLINTON SAYS SHE HASN'T DRIVEN A CAR SINCE 1996. The last time Hillary Clinton got behind the wheel, her husband was still president and "Macarena" was on the top of the charts. "Last time I actually drove a car myself was 1996," Clinton said during a speech yesterday at the National Automobile Dealers Association meeting in New Orleans. Recalling the experience, Clinton said: "I remember it very well, and unfortunately, so does the Secret Service, which is why I haven't driven since then." Clinton, who as a former first lady has lifetime Secret Service protection, acknowledged that not being able to drive was "one of the regrets I have about public life." "My husband thinks that's a blessing," she joked, "but he's the one who should talk." http://abcn.ws/1f7tNwd
WHAT WE'RE WATCHING
THE STATE OF THE UNION DATING GAME. As the president prepares to deliver his State of the Union address tonight, it's date night on Capitol Hill. Many senators and members of Congress are cozying up with colleagues from the other side of the aisle for the big address, inviting them to be their guests for the president's speech. Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Mark Udall, D- Colo., are in the fourth year of their trend and told "The Fine Print's" JEFF ZELENY they believe it will become a lasting tradition. "The reason we started what we wanted to become a permanent tradition is it's a chance to hit the reset button; it's a chance to remind us that we're all serving the United States of America, not just our individual states or parties," Udall said. Though the new practice initially caused a stir, Murkowski said it's now the new normal. "I think people are not even giving that much thought about it," Murkowski said. "It's like, 'Hey, who are you going to sit with?' Initially, it was a big deal, but I think what we have established now after four years is no, it only makes sense that we should want to sit with other members." http://yhoo.it/1edqohr
@carolynryan: Wow. Chris Christie's support among African Americans has tumbled since the scandal. http://nbcpolitics.nbcnews.com/_news/2014/01/27/22471140-poll-christie-numbers-tank-as-scandals-continue?lite …
@WSJwashington: Sen. Portman Fills Coffers Well Ahead of '16 Re-Election http://on.wsj.com/1jYDDnG