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May 28, 2017

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Obama grasps for momentum in latest State of Union speech

WASHINGTON--In the sixth year of a battered presidency and confounded by recalcitrant Republicans, U.S. President Barack Obama will try to loosen his political straitjacket in his annual State of the Union address.

Obama will seize one of his diminishing windows Tuesday to command the domestic political stage and literally talk over the heads of lawmakers blocking his agenda to speak directly to the American people.

Fighting off the curse of the second term lame duck, Obama hopes to rebound from a disastrous 2013, scarred by Republican obstruction and self-inflicted wounds.

The annual address will also help him landscape the political terrain ahead of November mid-term elections, in which Obama's Democratic Party is in peril of losing its hold on the Senate.

"This is not a State of the Union speech exclusively," said Robert Lehrman, who penned addresses for former vice president Al Gore and key congressional Democratic leaders.

"It is a state of the Obama administration speech," said Lehrman, a communications professor at American University.

Just a year after laying out a liberal agenda pulsating with ambition, Obama's agenda risks being stillborn due to blocking tactics of Republicans who control the House of Representatives and can jam up the Senate.

Still, he is expected to voice plans to raise the minimum wage, extend long-term unemployment benefits, expand pre-school education and quicken jobs growth.

He will frame his priorities in a call to arms to battle rising income inequality, which he sees as the "defining challenge of our time."

The theme will anchor Obama's remaining three years in office and ultimately his legacy.

Obama warned in a speech in December that a "dangerous and growing inequality and lack of upward mobility" is stifling America's basic bargain — "that if you work hard you have a chance to get ahead."

As Obama gazes out at lawmakers, Supreme Court Justices, cabinet members and military brass in the House of Representatives, he will know his hopes of enacting major legislation are not promising.

So the White House is warning he will wield his executive power to their limits and Obama will launch a political swing next week to build pressure on Republicans.

"When American jobs and livelihoods depend on getting something done, he will not wait for Congress," Obama's top political adviser Dan Pfeiffer told supporters in an email Saturday.

"President Obama has a pen and he has a phone, and he will use them to take executive action and enlist every American."

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