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Saturday 27 May 2017

Obama uses state address to recapture sense of hope

President still wants to fight for change in Washington despite failure so far

Toby Harnden in Washington

President Barack Obama faced a defining moment last night as he sought to use his first State of the Union address to recapture the sense of possibility that swept him into office.

Determined to convince the United States that he could get the country back on "a hopeful track", he was due to reassure Americans that he understood their struggles.

He was also expected to seek to convince them that he was still willing to fight for change in Washington, something he has admitted failing to achieve thus far.

But Mr Obama faces an uphill task in his speech to Congress early today, with unemployment at 10pc and his signature healthcare reform seemingly doomed after last week's shock Democratic loss of a Senate seat in Massachusetts.

Mr Obama now has to deal with a bitterly divided Congress and a sceptical and much more downbeat electorate than the one that saw him sworn into office a little over a year ago.

"The president is going to explain why he thinks the American people are angry and frustrated," said Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary.

He was also due to send a signal to Americans worried about soaring government debt by promising a three-year freeze on non-military spending.

The Left say the plan will hurt the poor while Republicans say it is too little, too late and affects only 17pc of the overall budget.

It was also expected that Mr Obama would announce a bipartisan panel to press for tax increases and spending cuts to help deal with ballooning deficits.

Focus

A similar proposal failed to gain approval in the US Senate on Tuesday. Many commentators were interpreting the focus on jobs as an indication that Mr Obama would quietly drop his plans for health care reform. But his aides rejected suggestions that the president was going to admit defeat on that issue.

In an interview with ABC News on Monday, Mr Obama suggested that he would go for broke in pursuing an ambitious agenda, insisting: "I'd rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president."

Mr Obama was also likely to spell out initiatives for immigration reform, global warming legislation, wide-ranging education reform and regulatory rules to outlaw reckless practices on Wall Street.

The tone of the speech will be closely studied in the days ahead as Mr Obama's supporters hanker for the inspirational impact of his first days in office.

"Democrats are really looking for that spark again," said David Young, chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party. "We feel like we may be off-track and we're looking for the president to come out with bold initiatives and to lead."

Also on Mr Obama's list of proposals was a promise to improve protection against bioterrorist attacks; tax breaks to help Americans entering university or retirement; and more aid for the earthquake victims of Haiti.

Raymond Joseph, Haiti's ambassador to the United States, was to be one of the guests of First Lady Michelle Obama in her box in the chamber of the House of Representatives.

There was also speculation that Mr Obama might announce an end to the "don't ask, don't tell" policy governing homosexuality in the armed forces. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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