"They spent far too much time actually trying to think they could negotiate with House and Senate Republicans," said Jim Manley, a longtime adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "I, for one, am glad that they finally decided to go around Congress to the extent possible."
Not surprisingly, Republicans have been dismissive of the president's go-it-alone approach.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., suggested that some executive actions might run up against legal challenges, saying Congress should insist Obama "find the Constitution and follow it." And House Speaker John Boehner's office said the strategy was simply a rehash of earlier Obama efforts to focus on executive authority when action in Congress stalled, including a 2011 effort that the White House branded, "We Can't Wait."
Obama aides say this year's push will be more extensive than in the past. White House officials have been trying to boost involvement by often-sidelined Cabinet members, and the president has brought in John Podesta, a prominent advocate for executive action, to serve as a senior adviser for one year.
Obama won't be abandoning Congress completely. He's expected to make another appeal during the State of the Union for passage of a sweeping immigration bill, which stalled in the House after getting through the Senate last summer. The president also is likely to make a new pitch for two proposals that got little traction after they were first announced in last year's address to Congress: expanding access to early childhood education and increasing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to at least $10 an hour.
There are glimmers of hope for him on at least some of those issues. House Republicans are readying their own immigration proposal addressing border security, increased visas for high-skilled workers and legalization for some of the 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, though stopping short of providing a pathway to citizenship. And with some GOP lawmakers also increasingly focused on economic inequality issues, White House officials say conditions could be right this year for pursuing a minimum wage increase.
Obama will follow his State of the Union address with a quick trip Wednesday and Thursday to Maryland, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Tennessee. In Maryland, he'll visit a Costco where he's expected to discuss job training programs and in Pittsburgh, he'll speak at the U.S. Steel Irvin Plant, where he's likely to tout initiatives to boost manufacturing.
On Friday, Obama will hold an event at the White House where he'll announce commitments from several companies to not discriminate against the long-term unemployed during hiring.
In keeping with tradition, the White House has invited several people to sit with first lady Michelle Obama during Tuesday night's address. Among them are two survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing, a teenager who stole the show at a White House science fair with his "extreme marshmallow cannon," and Jason Collins, an openly gay professional basketball player.Associated Press writer Donna Cassata contributed to this report.