HONOLULU — -- After 15 days in a carefree island paradise, it's back to reality for President Obama.
Obama returns from vacation to a chilly Washington on Sunday, staring down a long legislative agenda and simmering foreign crises, and with a desire to seal his legacy over the next two years.
He also faces a Congress in full Republican control for the first time during his term.
The president isn't sticking around long, however. Obama plans to hit the road Wednesday for a three-day travel blitz that officials describe as a sort of preemptive State of the Union.
The president "will highlight the progress we have made in the economy and he will announce policies that he will highlight in the State of the Union address to push us forward," White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.
The president plans to visit Detroit on Wednesday and Phoenix on Thursday, and then travel to Tennessee with Vice President Biden on Friday, Schultz said.
The speeches will promote a mix of specific new executive actions and legislative proposals in the areas of home ownership, college education and job creation, according to the White House.
The strategy is a departure from years past when the weeks ahead of the president's annual address to Congress have generally been a sleepy build-up to the nationally televised primetime unveiling of proposals.
It's an effort to battle the notion that Obama is a lame duck who has ceded power to political rivals and given up the spotlight to a field of his potential replacements in 2016.
In an interview, Schultz said the president plans “big, bold, decisive action” in 2015, in many cases circumventing Congress as he did with executive authority last year. “We’re going to run that same play,” he said.
Obama is scheduled to deliver the State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, Jan. 20.
Republicans, who officially take control of leadership in the U.S. Senate next week, have also planned a flurry of action to promote their agenda to kick off the New Year.
A measure to help encourage small businesses to hire more veterans is one of the first bills the GOP House will push, Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois said.
"In the coming days, the House will also act on legislation to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, and to restore the 40-hour workweek for middle class families," Davis said in the GOP weekly address.
Republicans have also talked of voting again to repeal or modify the Affordable Care Act, block Obama's immigration executive action, and enact a new round of sanctions on Iran.
"If the president is willing to work with us, we'll have a real chance to address our nation's most pressing challenges," Davis said.
Obama has said he's optimistic about finding some common ground with a Republican Congress, but will also act to aggressively defend his legislative achievements using his veto power.
"There are a number of issues we could make progress on," Schultz said. "But the president is clear that he will not let this Congress undo important protections gained, particularly in areas of health care, Wall Street reform and the environment."
The president has only vetoed two pieces of legislation in six years. The expectation is that his pen will soon get a bit more exercise.