Personal stories, fewer new policies: Obama to deliver new kind of State of the Union

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By Jim Acosta

WASHINGTON (CNN) — With many of his policy proposals already announced ahead of tonight’s State of the Union, President Barack Obama will instead deliver a different kind of address to the nation, sources familiar with the speech said.

“The President was tired of the old approach” of delivering a long laundry list of ideas, said one key Democratic party source who was briefed on the latest draft of the speech. “The news will be thematic, not policy driven,” said another well-placed party operative.

The end result, sources said, will be a State of the Union that largely focuses on middle-class themes — raising stagnant wages, strengthening the people who are already in the workforce, and providing a ladder to the working poor to climb out of poverty.

A list of talking points offered to Democratic party operatives said the president’s goal is “making paychecks go farther right now.”

“The change in leadership in Congress won’t shake the principles that have guided the President for six years,” the talking points say.

“He’s not slowing down, going small, or kowtowing to politics.. The change in leadership in Congress won’t shake the principles that have guided the President for six years.”

“Middle class economics is what’s driven the President for the last six years and it’s what he will focus on every day of the last two,” reads another line from those talking points.

To illustrate his policy agenda for his remaining years in office, Obama will draw upon the stories of every day Americans, some of whom will be in attendance Tuesday night as guests of the first lady.

Before he launches into many of the policy proposals that he has outlined over the last two weeks — from free community college to enhanced paid sick leave policies to new tax breaks for middle income earners — Obama is expected to begin his speech by highlighting areas where Democrats and Republicans might find agreement.

As part of that opening gesture to the GOP, the President plans to take note that this is his first time delivering a State of the Union without a major financial or government funding crisis hanging over Americans’ heads.

The White House is well aware of GOP opposition to the president’s plan to raise capital gains taxes on wealthier Americans. But as an olive branch to Republicans, Obama will extend another offer to Republican lawmakers to approve tax reform and pursue new trade deals in the coming year. But, in those areas , a key democratic source conceded Obama may run into more resistance within his own party.

Obama will also spend much of the night on foreign policy with a section devoted to the terror threat in Europe, according to one source briefed on the speech. But that source said the President will touch on subjects where there is intense disagreement, with another call to lawmakers to hold off on new sanctions on Iran while the U.S. and other major powers continue their nuclear talks with Tehran. In addition, he is expected to make another case for closing the terrorist detention center at Guantanamo.

A White House official said there are still some surprises in store Tuesday night.

But with 80 percent of the president’s policy proposals already unveiled in those “spoilers” released by White House officials earlier this month, as one source estimated, Obama could deliver his tightest State of the Union address yet.

“He wants a shorter speech,” said the Democratic source.

For inspiration for this State of the Union, White House officials looked to previous presidents who were faced with the task of working with a Congress that was controlled by an opposing party. Think Reagan and Bush 43 when they entered their seventh years.

But Obama also wants to take time to review what he believes to be a string of recent achievements. To defend his policy on Cuba, he plans to tell the story of Alan Gross who will be a guest of the First Lady Tuesday night. Gross was freed from a Cuban prison as part of the administration’s decision to normalize relations with the island.

The President is also expected to tout his decision to take executive action on immigration and again call on Congress to find a bipartisan, legislative solution to the long-simmering issue, according to a key Democratic source.

After the State of the Union speech, Obama will travel to Idaho and Kansas to continue his middle class pitch. The President wants to plan more “red state travel” in the coming months, said on Democratic source.

“He wants to engage states where people don’t agree with him,” the Democrat said.

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