Bush Prepares State of the Union for a Tough Crowd

Jan. 18, 2007 — -- Come Tuesday night, facing the lowest approval ratings of his presidency, President Bush will take his place behind the podium and address a Congress that, for the first time in his presidency, is not tilted in his favor.

"It's not going to be a typical State of the Union address in the sense of going at great length through all the budget items," White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said during a Thursday briefing. "It will address major issues, including the war on terror, energy, health care, immigration and education."

The topic of Iraq will make an appearance, most likely as part of Bush's discussion of the war on terror. The GOP minority will be looking to Bush to use the State of the Union to bring focus and the political upper hand to the nation's domestic agenda. Republicans are wary of letting Democrats take the lead in the domestic agenda, now that they are in power in Congress.

Climate Change and Alternative Energy

Getting considerable pre-Tuesday buzz is the outline Bush is expected to provide on climate change policy; it is widely expected the president will make a push for alternative energy and renewable fuels.

Comments by Al Hubbard, the White House energy policy coordinator and chairman of the National Economic Council, only fueled speculation on what Bush would outline as part of his energy plan.

In remarks at De Pauw University, Hubbard told reporters that Bush's speech would generate "headlines above the fold that will knock your socks off in terms of our commitment to energy independence."

What is clear is that the president will not go so far as to change his position on global warming by calling for a cap on carbon emissions. The environmental community and many of the country's international allies champion emissions caps as a mandatory step in combating global warming.

"If you're talking about enforceable carbon caps, industrywide and nationwide, we knocked that down. That's not something we're talking about," Snow told reporters earlier in the week.

The president has made some mention of America's energy dependence in every State of the Union address since his election. In 2006, he said the country is "addicted to oil."

Other issues on the domestic agenda that the president is expected to address are immigration and Social Security reforms.

The Rebuttal

Democratic leaders chose newly elected Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) to deliver the party's rebuttal to the president's speech. Webb, part of the Democratic sweep of Congress in last November's midterms, defeated Republican incumbent George Allen in a tight race that drew the media spotlight.

Webb, a Vietnam veteran and an early voice against the 2003 invasion of Iraq, is a symbolic reminder of the referendum on the GOP cast by American voters in 2006. His son, Jimmy, is a Marine serving in Iraq.

"In a call echoed by Americans across this nation, the people of Virginia sent Sen. Webb to Congress to help take our country in a new direction," said Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). "Sen. Webb represents the sweeping demand for leaders who will put aside gridlock in Washington to deliver change at home and abroad."

See and Be Seen

Monitoring the significance of who's clapping, who's not clapping, who's standing up, who's sitting down -- and when -- is only the beginning.

Bush will share the stage, for the first time, with a Republican and a Democrat. To his right, Vice President Dick Cheney, and to his left, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who makes history as the country's first female speaker of the House.

Both parties will look to their leaders on stage for cues as to when to be seen and be heard.

One Washington guessing game is which Cabinet member will be the "designated survivor" and not attend the State of the Union in case there's a catastrophic event. Post-9/11 members of Congress designate survivors, too, to maintain continuity of government in case of an attack or other emergency.In 2006, Secretary of Veterans' Affairs Jim Nicholson stayed away from the State of the Union, along with Sens. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Reps. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and George Miller (D-Calif.).

White House and congressional guests can also cause something of a red carpet stir. Michael J. Fox is expected to attend as the guest of Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), a staunch supporter of stem cell research.

The first lady's office plans to release the White House guest list Friday.

ABC News' Jessica Yellin and Karen Travers contributed to this report.