State of the Union: Bravado vs. political reality


— It was a speech filled with proclamations and bold promises for action.

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Barack Obama vowed to make 2014 a “year of action.”

He promises to use executive power to steer clear of partisan gridlock, and urged Congress to work for the good of the nation by helping to push through some of the same policies he’s touted for five years.

He repeated his call for Republicans, especially in the House, to stop trying to undermine the sweeping health care law he championed that cleared Congress with no GOP support in 2010.

He said “the American people aren’t interested in refighting old battles.”

He continued by saying: “Let’s not have another 40-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans.”

Obama also offered what he called “concrete, practical proposals” for economic growth and enhanced opportunity.

He said some of his ideas will require congressional action, but promised to move forward without Capitol Hill, if necessary.

“America does not stand still, and neither will I, so wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do,” he said.

The double-down continued when it came to efforts to reduce gun violence.

“I intend to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters, shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook,” Obama said.

He also vowed to use his executive authority to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 for federal contract workers, boost fuel efficiency for large trucks, create a new retirement savings program for people whose employers don’t offer one, and encouraged several public-private partnerships to help boost employment and college and work readiness for students.

Despite his bravado, the political reality is complicated by a hyperpolarized climate in Washington, the approaching midterm elections in November, and that date when he crosses into lame-duck status.

With 2013 chalked up as a year of legislative setbacks on guns, immigration and jobs, the question for Obama — strategists on both sides of the aisle agree — is whether he can rebound well enough to push his priorities through. Or will his sixth year in office look more like his fifth?

There were moments during the State of the Union address when Obama appeared to acknowledge the toll the rough-and-tumble political climate in Washington has taken on his policy wish list.

“Let’s get immigration reform done this year,” he said. “Let’s get it done. It’s time.”

And there was also a nod to the pressures of election-year politics.

The White House says its No. 1 political goal for 2014 is protecting the Democratic majority in the Senate. Yet that goal — blocking Republicans from a net six-seat gain — could significantly complicate the President’s policy agenda.

Several of the most vulnerable Senate Democratic incumbents are from states Obama lost badly in 2012, including Arkansas, Alaska and Louisiana.

Those and other Democrats are opposed to some things Obama wants — like new gun control — and favor ideas the White House does not support, including modifications to Obamacare.

Meanwhile, working women and their struggles were highlighted in the speech, underscoring the important role women play both in Obama’s domestic agenda and his party’s hopes for this year’s midterm elections.

In a bid to bolster support for Democratic policies among women voters, the President said that “it’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a ‘Mad Men’ episode.

He called for “Congress, the White House, and businesses from Wall Street to Main Street” to come together “to give every woman the opportunity she deserves.”

CNN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell, Tom Cohen, John King and Brianna Keilar contributed to this report.