US & Canada

Obama expected to frame election issues in optimistic State of the Union address

A U.S. flag on a vehicle flutters as the sun sets behind the U.S. Capitol dome in the hours before President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress Image copyright Reuters

President Barack Obama is set to strike an optimistic and hopeful tone in his final State of the Union address.

The president will focus on cementing his legacy rather than unveiling new policies, officials have said.

Mr Obama is expected to frame some of the key issues in a way that fellow Democrats can embrace during campaigning for the upcoming election.

However, recent polls suggest that seven in 10 people in the US do not share their leader's optimism.

A response by the Republican party will be delivered by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.

In excerpts from the speech released in advance, Mr Obama urges Americans to make world changes work for them and overcome fears.

He will say the future the US wants is only possible if the country "fixes its politics" and works together.

"A better politics doesn't mean we have to agree on everything... But democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens," the speech reads.

Hours before the event, 10 US sailors were held by Iran after their boat had mechanical issues and sailed into Iranian waters. They are expected to be released on Wednesday.

Mr Obama's aides have avoided characterising the speech as a victory lap, but say it will highlight his accomplishments over the past seven years.

They say that it will present an optimistic alternative to the dire narratives put forward by Republican presidential candidates.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mr Obama, seen on TV in Cuba announcing the restoration of diplomatic ties, is expected to cheer the rapprochement

Among the events and developments that he will tout as successes are:

He will also continue his public messaging campaign aimed at improving the image of his strategy against the so-called Islamic State.

Keeping with tradition, the president will speak about what he would like to see Congress work on and his vision for the US beyond his last year in office.

While he is not expected to offer a large list of policy proposals, he could urge action on a number of items he feels have been left undone or could be accomplished with bipartisan support during his remaining year in office.

Among the items that could be on his to-do list:

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Media captionWhat to watch for in President Obama's final State of the Union

Also keeping with tradition, First Lady Michelle Obama will host several guests that reflect the president's vision for US society.

This year, an empty chair will be featured in remembrance of gun violence victims.

Among the many guests:

  • Syrian refugee Refaai Hamo
  • Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella
  • first female US Army Ranger Lisa Jaster
  • Supreme Court plaintiff Jim Obergefell
  • Muslim US Army Veteran Naveed Shah
  • Mexican immigrant and science proponent Oscar Vazquez

The speech is expected to begin around 21:00 local time (02:00 GMT), and has - in the past - had a duration of about an hour.

Mr Obama's remarks mark the fulfilment of a constitutional mandate that requires the president to "from time to time give the Congress information on the State of the Union".

Historically, the update has usually been given annually, in January, as a speech to a joint session of Congress.

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Media captionBBC Rewind looks back on some of the most famous State of the Union addresses as President Obama for the final one in his eight-year tenure.