Monday 25 September 2017

Barack Obama to use address to rebrand himself in the centre

Toby Harnden

Barack Obama will use Tuesday's State of the Union address to cement himself in the political centre as he aims to capitalise on a series of unexpected recent political successes.

White House advisers have indicated that the speech will be used as a rebranding amid a revival in his fortunes that he hopes lead to his being re-elected next year.

The annual address on Tuesday night, which last year was watched by 48 million, will pull together the themes the US president has been developing over the past two months as he sought to rescue his presidency following what he described as a "shellacking" for Democrats in the November midterm elections.

Mr Obama will use his annual address to appeal for political unity as he concentrates on the tasks of job creation and "responsible" deficit reduction.

He outlined the main themes of his speech, which will be delivered to a Republican-controlled House of Representatives and a Democratic-controlled Senate, in a videotaped address to activists. He told supporters in his "Organising for America" group that his "number one focus is going to be making sure that we are competitive, and we are creating jobs not just now but well into the future."

With a battle looming over the federal budget and Republicans pushing for repeal of the Mr Obama's signature health care law, he will call for civility and bipartisanship. Republicans have said that deep cuts in the deficit are needed to restore economic growth.

"These are big challenges that are in front of us, but we're up to it, as long as we come together as a people – Republicans, Democrats, independents – as long as we focus on what binds us together as a people, as long as we're willing to find common ground even as we're having some very vigorous debates," Mr Obama said.

Mr Obama's popularity ratings have crept up above the 50 pc threshold recently thanks to a number of political successes before the new year as well as his response to the recent mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona was widely praised.

Some of those connected to the Arizona tragedy, which left Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords gravely wounded, are likely to be guests of Michelle Obama, the First Lady, for the speech on Capitol Hill.

In a rare show of unity, some members of Congress will cross the aisle to sit with their opponents. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, a liberal Democrat, will be beside Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, a conservative Republican.

"I think if Coburn and Schumer can sit next to each other, then probably just about everybody can," Mr Schumer told CBS News. "It's true it's symbolic, but let's not forget (that) oftentimes in history, symbols influence reality."

The speech comes as Mr Obama's prospective Republican opponents in the 2012 election begin stepping up their efforts. In a "straw poll" of Republican activists in New Hampshire, where the first primary will be held, Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who has not yet declared his candidacy, won with 35pc of the 276 ballots cast. Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice-presidential candidate, could only manage fourth place, with seven per cent.

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