Posted by on February 12, 2013 in Blog

President Obama will deliver his fifth State of the Union address tonight, amidst a flurry of political activity on the Hill. The speech will be his first substantive foray into the political agenda of his second administration, and many are hoping to get a sense of Obama’s priorities for the coming years.

Here are a few issues Obama will likely tackle tonight, and others that he probably won’t.

 

On Immigration

What To Expect

Obama has bluntly stated that he hopes to make immigration reform a top priority in the coming years. Considering the importance of the Latino vote in his re-election campaign, this is hardly surprising, but most analysts would agree that the country is long overdue for meaningful, comprehensive immigration reform. Republicans, still smarting from the overwhelmingly Democratic Latino vote last year, are also eager to engage in the conversation, and the President will likely acknowledge their cooperation and willingness to negotiate. If he does, that he’ll likely also urge Republicans to reconsider their visceral rejection of pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, particularly regarding the DREAM Act.

What Not To Expect

Certain ethno-specific or national security immigration issues, such as the highly problematic residual effects of the Bush Administration’s National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), will almost certainly remain unaddressed. It’s also unlikely that Obama will bring up the racial profiling aspects of our immigration policy, and the continuing spread of racist immigration laws modeled after Arizona’s SB-1070.

 

On Gun Control

What To Expect

The recent spate of gun violence has pushed the gun control conversation to the political forefront, and Obama has already laid out his plan for gun control reform. Tonight will be a good opportunity to explain the political and ethical foundation for an assault rifle ban, and criticize the NRA proposals that have been offered in response. Obama will likely attack his opponents for endangering lives with their reticence to enforce universal background checks or restrictions on the sale of automatic weapons and assault rifles.

What Not To Expect

Obama is bringing families of victims of gun violence to attend his speech. Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) is bringing Ted Nugent. Pretty much anything could happen tonight.

 

On Drones

What To Expect

The administration’s use of unmanned aerial drones to assassinate suspected terrorists in Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere has become a contentious political issue in Washington. A leaked Justice Department memo details the administration’s rationale for the use of drones to kill US citizens without any judicial or Congressional oversight. Considering the questions raised by prominent Democrats in both houses, Obama may feel compelled to answer some questions regarding the legality and national security justification for his administration’s reliance on extra-judicial killing.

What Not To Expect

Considering the secrecy that has enveloped Obama’s extensive reliance on the drone program, there’s little reason to believe that tonight will be an exception. Time and again the administration has used its executive privilege to withhold information on the use of drones, the number of people they have killed, and the locations and functions of drone bases around the world. While officials argue that the information must be kept secret for national security reasons, and the media has been all-too-willing to oblige, many members of Congress are requested greater oversight and control. If Obama intends to relinquish some of that power – and he’s previously stated that he should – tonight might be a good opportunity to do so, but it’s doubtful.

 

On Syria and the Arab Uprisings

What To Expect

America’s foreign policy in the Middle East was a prominent feature of last year’s State of the Union, and there have certainly been enough developments this year for a review of his administration’s policies. Syria in particular has been a focus for many government figures, as they decide what role they can play in the complex, increasingly-chaotic two-year uprising. A recent New York Times story revealed that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and CIA Director David Petraeus had put together a plan late last year for getting more directly involved in the two-year Syrian uprising, but were rebuffed by the President. If he’s going to stay the course, or finally get more directly involved, he could reveal his intentions tonight.

What Not To Expect

The administration has been notoriously vague about its policy toward Syria, and most of the steps it has taken – covert support for the rebels, CIA operatives dispatched to Turkey – have been undertaken in secret. It’s unlikely that we’ll hear about new policies or strategies regarding Syria or any other state, but some rhetoric about ending the violence and supporting the transition to democracy is almost required.

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