Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

5 things to watch in Obama's State of the Union

By Jessica Yellin, CNN Chief White House Correspondent
updated 10:10 AM EST, Tue February 12, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Will Obama's GOP jabs outweigh any olive branches?
  • State of the Union addresses can sometimes be policy laundry lists
  • Sometimes issues not mentioned say more than what's in the speech
  • What Michelle Obama wears might be biggest surprise of the night

Watch CNN's comprehensive coverage of President Barack Obama's State of the Union address starting at 7 p.m. ET Tuesday on CNN TV. Follow online at CNN.com or via CNN's apps for iPhone, iPad and Android. Follow our real-time State of the Union live blog at cnn.com/conversation.

Washington (CNN) -- President Barack Obama delivers the first State of the Union address of his second term on Tuesday. Here are five things to watch for as the president lays out his second-term agenda:

1. Slap and tickle

Sources say the president will point out bipartisan progress on immigration reform but he'll take it to the GOP on debt and tax reform. Already, Republicans are bracing to play victim.

Tally up the jabs and weigh them against mentions of common ground. That will be an early scorecard for Wednesday-morning quarterbacking.

Obama set to challenge and persuade

2. Wish lists

Expect to forget what the president says. Nothing personal, Mr. President, but State of the Union addresses are notoriously forgotten.

Checking Obama's 2012 Union vows
State of your union
GPS: Krugman on Obama's second term
Obama to make State of the Union case

John F. Kennedy was a great orator -- quick, what did he say in his State of the Unions? How about Reagan? They're just not great venues for rhetoric.

Granted, the Monroe Doctrine and the Four Freedoms were both laid out in State of the Unions, but in general they tend to be laundry lists for party policy wishes.

8 memorable State of the Union moments

3. What he doesn't say

An average of 44 million people have watched Obama deliver previous State of the Union addresses. His aides say a huge audience equals a huge opportunity.

So, will he seize the opportunity to answer his critics and respond to his base on issues including: U.S. use of unmanned drones, the legal rationale for targeting Americans, U.S. policy in Syria, Iran's nuclear program, and security of U.S. diplomatic posts? On the domestic front, will he address poverty in the United States?

Will any of these controversial issues make the cut?

State of the Union to focus on jobs, wages and the economy

4. Keep count

Count how many times your issue gets mentioned.

While presidential speechwriters insist the amount of time dedicated to an issue in most speeches doesn't matter as much as the language used to describe it, the State of the Union is an exception. That's because every word is debated.

Aides say this speech will be heavy on economic themes. But look to see how much time Obama spends on the other issues he outlined in his inaugural address, including gay rights, women's rights, climate change and education.

Mentions matter.

Republicans, Democrats suggest priorities ahead of State of the Union

5. Will she or won't she?

Serious people don't care -- or so they say. But since first lady Michelle Obama shocked tout de D.C. by showing her guns in the heroes box during the president's 2009 joint address to Congress, her outfit has become one of the best (sometimes only) surprises of the night.

Will she bare her arms again? Right now, it's one of the most closely held secrets in Washington.

Obama to announce 34,000 troops to come home

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:24 AM EST, Thu February 14, 2013
Here is a roundup of the main themes President Barack Obama touched on during Tuesday's State of the Union address.
updated 10:29 AM EST, Thu February 14, 2013
The heart of President Barack Obama's speech Tuesday was the same focus that's driven every State of the Union of his presidency.
updated 10:26 AM EST, Thu February 14, 2013
President Barack Obama launched three days of campaign-style speeches with a visit to a manufacturing plant that he said epitomized his proposals for job creation.
updated 9:21 AM EST, Wed February 13, 2013
CNN asked viewers to post a #tweetoftheunion on Twitter summarizing Obama's State of the Union speech.
updated 9:53 PM EST, Tue February 12, 2013
CNN's Tom Foreman explains the protocol and the history behind the president's annual address to Congress.
updated 7:54 AM EST, Wed February 13, 2013
As with any State of the Union address, President Barack Obama had several audiences and there were multiple aims for the White House.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed February 13, 2013
President Barack Obama announced that some 34,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan will have returned home by this time next year.
updated 12:50 PM EST, Wed February 13, 2013
Claiming Barack Obama thinks a "free enterprise economy" is "the cause of our problems" -- not, as he sees it, the solution -- Sen. Marco Rubio argued that the president's proposals would hurt middle class citizens more than help them.
updated 9:12 AM EST, Wed February 13, 2013
Sen. Marco Rubio took President Barack Obama to task on the issue of health care during the Republican response to the State of the Union.
updated 9:11 AM EST, Wed February 13, 2013
President Barack Obama touted his administration's efforts on reducing illegal immigration.
updated 9:12 AM EST, Wed February 13, 2013
President Obama continued pushing for new energy technologies. He also praised the expansion of renewable energy technologies like wind and solar electricity.
updated 9:11 AM EST, Wed February 13, 2013
President Barack Obama talked up alternative energy. Not only did he tout the solar and natural gas industries' recent gains, he also talked up the amount of wind energy that's now fueling the country.
updated 7:45 PM EST, Mon January 27, 2014
From the Great Society to the Axis of Evil, here are historian Doris Kearns Goodwin's top State of the Union moments.
updated 10:05 AM EST, Tue February 12, 2013
The president's annual address has given us policy, prose and shout-outs to heroes.
updated 10:14 AM EST, Tue February 12, 2013
Earlier presidents delivered a written message to be read to Congress before the tradition became at TV event.
ADVERTISEMENT