Why Obama's stepping on his own State of the Union message

'Inside Politics' forecast: Obama's SOTU strategy & more
'Inside Politics' forecast: Obama's SOTU strategy & more

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    'Inside Politics' forecast: Obama's SOTU strategy & more

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'Inside Politics' forecast: Obama's SOTU strategy & more 04:22

Story highlights

  • Elizabeth Warren's impact on Hillary Clinton camp recalls Mario Cuomo in 1992
  • What key GOPers are saying about Loretta Lynch
  • How Jason Chaffetz will change Darrell Issa's old committee

Washington (CNN)Our first 2015 trip around the "Inside Politics" table brought fresh insights on President Obama's early moves, key intelligence on Republican congressional shifts, some North Dakota intrigue and a look back that perhaps has a parallel to the angst some liberals have about their 2016 front-runner.

1. The 'big speech' isn't what it once was, so Obama hits the road
A post-State of the Union road trip is a presidential tradition, but Obama is planning a pre-speech swing, perhaps to show the times are changing.
    Julie Pace of The Associated Press says it's the latest attempt by the White House to maximize its political leverage -- all the more important now that Republicans will control both the House and the Senate.
    Obama's three weeks of State of the Union previews
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    Obama's three weeks of State of the Union previews 00:35
    "The White House says that this is a way to get out there, gain momentum and draw up contrasts with Republicans early on. But it also shows that State of the Unions simply aren't as important as they once were," said Pace.
    "The President's last State of the Union address drew 33 million viewers. It was the lowest number of viewers since Bill Clinton's last address. You still get a big audience, but I think this is interesting, whether this signals that not only this White House but future White Houses will see an incentive in talking to the American people about State of the Union ideas separate from just that one big night. "
    2. Easy sailing for AG choice Lynch?
    Attorney General Eric Holder has few, if any, friends among Republicans in Congress, and there were predictions of a rocky road for the woman chosen by Obama to take the reins at Justice now that Holder is stepping down.
    But The Atlantic's Molly Ball tells us that smooth sailing is now the prediction as Loretta Lynch prepares for her confirmation hearings.
    Yes, Republicans have some big policy differences with the Obama administration and will use the Lynch hearings to air them. But Ball says her reporting found that Lynch herself has made a very good impression on key GOPers.
    "She impressed a lot of Republicans in her meetings on the hill last month," said Ball.
    "Sen. Grassley, who's the incoming chairman of the Judiciary Committee, hasn't said anything negative about her. Senior Republican sources in the Senate tell me they think there may be a little bit of drama but right now she's looking pretty good for confirmation."
    3. Chaffetz's plans for Issa's old committee
    The new Congress means some new faces leading key congressional committees, and Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah can be certain of this: He will be compared early and often to his combative predecessor, Rep. Darrell Issa of California.
    Chaffetz is about to take over the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, the panel that for the past couple of years has held high-profile hearings on the IRS, Benghazi, and other flashpoints between the GOP and the Obama White House.
    Chaffetz has a more easygoing style than Issa but is no less ambitious -- and no fan of the White House. Ed O'Keefe of The Washington Post shared his reporting on how the new chairman plans to close down some investigations, but then get busy with a new set of oversight priorities.
    The Chaffetz agenda
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    "He's putting together a bunch of new subcommittees --one to look at Obama's work on energy and the environment and another focused specifically on administrative rules, or all the regulation-writing that is going on across the administration," said O'Keefe.
    "He says staffers on that subcommittee are tasked with waking up every morning, scouring the Federal Register and all the other pieces of information that are out there about rule-making going on, and hold hearings about them. "
    4. One big question for 2016 -- will Heitkamp take the plunge?
    In Washington, the big 2016 debate is over when Hillary Clinton will let us know for certain. But in North Dakota, it's Heidi Heitkamp who has things in a bit of a holding pattern.
    Heitkamp, a Democratic U.S. senator, is looking hard at heading home and running for governor in 2016.
    Nia-Malika Henderson of The Washington Post took us inside the chess game that could play out if Heitkamp shakes up state politics with a gubernatorial bid.
    "She's not up for Senate until 2018, so if she runs for governor in 2016, she can also keep her Senate seat," said Henderson.
    "But if she wins, she could actually appoint her successor. And Republicans in North Dakota are nervous about that prospect and making some noise and putting bills forward to prevent that little technicality, so she wouldn't be able to do that."
    5. Clinton and Warren -- this 2016 dynamic has a 1992 parallel
    Another big 2016 debate in Washington is whether liberals can somehow convince Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts to challenge Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.
    I vividly recall a similar debate back in late 1991 and early 1992, when then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton was emerging as the Democratic front-runner and annoying some party activists with his argument that Democrats were repeatedly losing presidential elections because the national party was far too liberal.
    Back then, the liberal at the receiving end of the urgent entreaties was New York Gov. Mario Cuomo. Among those most aggressive on courting Cuomo were the labor unions that Clinton often blamed for pulling Democrats to the left.
    On deadline day to file for the New Hampshire primary, there was a plane waiting in Albany, New York, to take Cuomo to Concord to declare his candidacy and join the fray. Reporters waited, and a crowd gathered as word spread of the expected drama.
    I remember sitting in the Concord bureau of The Associated Press and filing the bulletin that Cuomo would NOT run.
    And on that day and in the days that followed, I recall the relief his decision gave to top lieutenants in the Bill Clinton campaign.
    The principal reason Clinton survived the roller coaster of character questions in that '92 campaign was his own political skills and tenacity. But it is also fair to note that it turned out to be a relatively weak Democratic field.
    No offense to Bob Kerrey, Tom Harkin or the late Paul Tsongas, but none emerged as a lasting, serious threat to Clinton. Jerry Brown -- then the former California governor and now back in that job -- held on the longest, but never came close in the delegate chase.
    Cuomo's decision kept on the sidelines a powerful intellect with proven debate skills -- and earned the New York governor the "Hamlet on the Hudson" moniker because of his public debate, largely with himself, over whether to run for president in 1988 and then again in 1992.