President Obama Changes Tone Ahead of State of the Union Address

However, GOP Leader Mitch McConnell calls for a change of course.

January 24, 2010, 10:17 PM

WASHINGTON, Jan. 24, 2010— -- On the eve of President Obama's State of the Union address and the end of his first year in office, Republican Scott Brown's astonishing win in the Massachusetts special Senate race not only reset politics in that state, but reset politics for the entire nation.

"The entire political community was caught a little bit unawares on that one," White House senior adviser David Axelrod said today on ABC's "This Week" of Brown's win.

After Brown's upset win ended the 60-seat majority in the Senate that Democrats needed in order to push through health care reform without a Republican vote, the White House is adjusting its political operation by bringing in Obama's 2008 presidential campaign manager David Plouffe. The move comes ahead of mid-term elections in the House and Senate this November, where Republicans hope to capitalize on the momentum of Brown's win and pick up more seats, which could further endanger the president's agenda.

White House advisers played down Plouffe's hire, denying an association with Brown's win.

"David Plouffe has been a regular adviser to the president throughout the year," White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"We have a very strong political operation. What it's a reflection of is that David was working on his book for the last year. He's done with that now. He's enormously talented, as everyone knows, and he brings value added to our operation as we look forward, in terms of strategy and tactics, and he'll be consulting with us on that, and we'll be stronger for it," Axelrod said.

Also back were themes from Obama's presidential campaign.

"This president's never going to stop fighting to create jobs, to raise incomes, and to push back on the special interests' dominance in Washington and this withering partisanship that keeps us from solving problems," Axelrod said.

Axelrod said those same themes propelled Brown to victory.

"This is the Obama who ran for president," he said. "And the themes that he talked about in that campaign were very much echoed by Senator Brown in his campaign, which tells you that the hunger for that kind of leadership is still very strong."

In another throwback to campaign rhetoric, on Friday at a town hall meeting in Elyria, Ohio, Obama used the word "fight" more than 20 times.

White House advisers say the president will continue with his current health care reform push despite Brown's win.

"The underlying elements of it are popular and important. And people will never know what's in that bill until we pass it, the president signs it, and they have a whole range of new protections they never had before," Axelrod said.

Yet Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell argued Americans were against the Democrats' health care reform initiative, citing a recent Washington Post/Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard University poll of Massachusetts voters that found that 48 percent opposed the health-care proposals advanced by Obama and congressional Democrats while 43 percent of them said they supported them.

"The people are telling us, 'Please don't pass this bill.' Now, if they get past this arrogant phase that they've been stuck in for about a year that, 'We know best. We don't want to listen to public opinion here, we want to 'make history,' if they can work their way past that and concentrate on the real problem, which is the cost, we're willing to look at it." McConnell said on NBC.

"We see it all over the country in tea parties and town halls. People are alarmed and angry about the spending, the debt, the government takeovers," said Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., on ABC.

Obama's advisers say they understand people are frustrated.

"I think people are angry in this country -- they were angry in Massachusetts -- that we haven't made more progress on the economy," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said on "FOX News Sunday."

"I think we have to stay focused on solving people's problems, and I think the politics will flow from there," Plouffe said in an interview with ABC News.

Obama has an opportunity to address that frustration in his State of the Union address this Wednesday evening, when he can speak directly to the American people.

"He'll be able to set forth his priorities, and they will be focusing on the middle class. Our middle class is struggling out there. they're frustrated, they're angry, they're working hard to try to make ends meet. They're having to make terrible choices between paying their rent and putting food on the table and paying for their health care and sending their kids to college. These are the same principles that the president advocated in the course of the campaign," Jarrett said, previewing the speech.

While the president may take a more populist tone Wednesday night, whether he will change course remains to be seen.

"I think the reason that you had the victories in Virginia and New Jersey and most improbably in Massachusetts of all places was the American people are saying, 'We want to go in a different direction.' I hope the president will get the message and change direction , and we'll begin to see that next Wednesday night," McConnell said.

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