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Obama's State of the Union strategy: Pressuring GOP to call votes

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WASHINGTON -- I watched President Barack Obama's State of the Union with a very important focus group -- keeping an eye on the Republicans in the House chamber from my perch in the gallery -- observing they mostly sat on their hands during his speech.

This time, at least, everything was polite -- no one cried out liar or anything unsort.

But as much as Obama made a pitch for bipartisanship, he faces formidable obstacles in pushing the economic agenda he laid out in his speech, most of the items aimed at boosting the middle class.

Now there are some items that everyone should agree on, such as making it easier and cheaper to refinance a home mortgage. That's not where the main battles will be.

Obama's team sees the Republicans in Congress as mainly obstructionists, chained to the far right base of the party, fearful of primary challenges. That's why they are plotting strategies to create public pressure on Republicans -- an initial chore assigned to the new nonprofit created out of the Obama campaign, Organizing for America.

Unlike his Jan. 21 inaugural address, Obama's speech was not soaring -- and lacked the pitch to the liberal, or progressive wing that marked that address, a better candidate for the history books.

His second term blueprint seemed fairly modest to me -- no massive new initiatives -- but the GOP response in the room told me there were partisan battles ahead -- with two possible big ticket exceptions, on measures to curb gun violence and comprehensive immigration reform.

I watched the parents of slain Chicago teen Hadiya Pendleton -- sitting next to first lady Michelle -- as Obama pleaded to at least give a vote to his proposals to curb gun violence. It was heartbreaking to imagine what this week has been like for them -- the funeral for their daughter was last Saturday.

A few months ago, I was very pessimistic of any chance of any gun measure passing -- even in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre. Yet as Obama spoke, you could see that there was support for something from both sides of the aisle. Key here will be if House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will allow votes on gun measures that do not have the support of the majority of House Republicans.

That's why Obama was calling for a vote -- why Democrats were chanting "vote,"vote." They know the public won't buy into -- if they know about it -- keeping gun bills hostage without even a chance for a vote.

The same for immigration reform. Key senators sat together to show their unity on this -- Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and others in a row -- all stood as Obama called for "real" reform.

"Let's get this done," Obama said.

Maybe he will.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on February 13, 2013 7:18 AM.

President Obama official schedule and guidance, Feb. 13, 2013. Asheville, N.C. was the previous entry in this blog.

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