Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Jim Kuhnhenn / The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The American public will get a competing mix of rhetoric and imagery in President Barack Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday, a speech that offers a heavy dose on the economy even as it plays out against a visual backdrop dominated by the current national debate over guns.
With the economy still trying to find its footing and with millions still out of work, Obama will make a case for measures and proposals that he says will boost job creation and put the economy on a more upward trajectory. Obama's emphasis underscores a White House recognition that while the president seeks to expand his agenda and build a second-term legacy, the economy remains a major public preoccupation.
But in the galleries above the rostrum of the House of Representatives where Obama will speak, many of the faces looking down on him will be those of Americans thrust into the politics of gun violence.
First lady Michelle Obama will sit with the parents of a Chicago teenager shot and killed just days after she performed at the president's inauguration. Twenty-two House members have invited people affected by gun violence, according to Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., who pushed the effort. And Republican Rep. Steve Stockman of Texas says he's invited rocker Ted Nugent, a long-time gun control opponent who last year said he would end up "dead or in jail" if Obama won re-election.
That confluence of message and symbolism illustrates where Obama is in his presidency following his re-election.
The economic blueprint he will discuss will have many of the elements Americans have heard before, with its embrace of manufacturing, energy development and education. And in that sense it is a reminder of what was unfulfilled at the end of Obama's first term. But the tragic murders of 26 people at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school in December altered the president's agenda, pushing guns onto a to-do list that already included a new push for an overhaul of immigration law.
As the president addresses gun violence, the cameras are sure to pan the faces in the crowd inside the House chamber, each with a story meant to influence the debate. Obama has proposed a ban on certain weapons and on high-capacity ammunition magazines. He has also called for broader, universal background checks on gun purchasers, a proposal that stands a better chance politically.
But White House aides say the economy is still Obama's central theme.
"You've seen the president act aggressively on comprehensive immigration reform. You've seen the president put forward a series of comprehensive proposals to reduce gun violence in this country in the recent weeks," White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday. "These are important priorities of the president and of the nation. But what remains his No. 1 priority is what it has been since he took office, which is to get this economy growing, get it creating jobs, strengthening the middle class and expanding the middle class — allowing those who seek and aspire to the middle class to get there, giving them the tools to do that."
Senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett said "the president has always believed that our country is strongest when we build from the middle out, not from the top down."
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