WASHINGTON -- No longer about bold ambitions, this year's State of the Union address will focus more on what's actually achievable.
For the White House, that dose of realism is aimed at avoiding a repeat of 2013, when a long list of unfulfilled policy goals -- including gun control and an immigration overhaul -- dragged President Obama down like an anchor. Tuesday's prime time address will focus instead on redefining success for Obama -- not by what he can jam through Congress but rather by what he can accomplish through his own presidential powers.
He is expected to announce executive actions on job training, retirement security and help for the long-term unemployed in finding work. All are part of the White House focus this year on boosting economic mobility and narrowing the income gap between the wealthy and the poor.
"Tomorrow night, it's time to restore opportunity for all," Obama said Monday on the video-sharing site Vine, part of the White House's broad social media promotion of the speech.
"I think the way we have to think about this year is we have a divided government," said White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer. "The Republican Congress is not going to rubber-stamp the president's agenda. The president is not going to sign the Republican Congress' agenda."
The address, delivered before a joint session of Congress and millions of Americans watching on television and the Internet, typically garners a president his largest audience of the year. It also provides perhaps his best opportunity to try to persuade skeptical Americans that he still wields substantial power in Washington, even if he can't break through a divided Congress.
The risk for Obama in centering his agenda on his own executive actions is that those directives often are more limited in scope than legislation that requires congressional approval. And that raises questions about how much impact he can have.
For example, Obama can collect commitments from businesses to consider hiring the long-term unemployed, as he'll announce Tuesday night, but without the help of Congress he can't restore expired jobless benefits for those Americans while they look for work.
White House officials insist executive actions should not automatically be pegged as small bore, pointing in particular to steps the president can take on climate change, including stricter regulations on power plants and new car efficiency standards. And some Democrats are cheering the strategy, saying it's time for Obama to look beyond Capitol Hill after spending more than half his time in office mired in congressional gridlock.