In his first speech to a joint session of Congress, President Obama is planning to strike a more optimistic tone than he has in recent days by laying out a "game plan" to beat the financial crisis, according to a senior White House official.
The senior official said there will only be a brief discussion of foreign policy, with mentions of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as other threats around the world. Instead, the speech will be dominated by four issues that all relate to the president’s broader economic message: financial stability and responsibility, education, energy independence and overhaul of health care. The official said that unlike the more formal State of the Union speeches delivered later in a presidency, Obama will not go into great detail on questions such as whether large banks will be nationalized. “The American people want to know there’s a game plan, not every move on the field,” the senior official said. “We have a plan for winning.” iReport.com: How are you coping with the economy Because Obama’s presidency is a month old, the speech is not technically considered a State of the Union address. The annual State of the Union speech is delivered in the House of Representatives before members of both the House and the Senate as well as the justices of the Supreme Court, the president’s Cabinet and international dignitaries. A president’s first speech before a joint session of Congress is often referred to as an “annual message” or a message on a particular topic, such as an “economic message.”
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Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal will deliver the Republican response to Obama’s speech. Watch what Jindal has to say » Obama, a self-described “eternal optimist,” is expected to talk about the responsibility everyone has to help get the country back on track, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said. “I think you’ll hear him begin the discussion on restoring a sense of fiscal responsibility to this town and understanding that we have to begin to live within our means,” Gibbs said Monday. The speech comes a week after Obama signed a $787 billion stimulus bill and two days before Congress receives a summary of his 2010 budget. The senior official acknowledged the White House has heard criticism from former President Clinton and others about not being too sour and will make a point of being hopeful about the future. “He clearly says, ‘We will get through this, and here are the policies to get through this,’ ” the senior official said. The address will air live on CNN and CNN.com at 9 p.m. ET. Join the conversation with CNN.com and Facebook While Obama puts a heavy imprint on his speeches, the address is being put together by Jon Favreau, the young chief White House speechwriter who was in charge of the inaugural address. Senior officials said recent drafts of the speech have been timed out at between 50 minutes and one hour, depending on how many interruptions there are for applause. Obama also is planning to build on Monday’s fiscal responsibility summit to make the case that it’s time to try and tackle a whole series of big challenges, from financial regulatory reform to reshaping Social Security and the health care system. In the words of the senior official, “you never let a serious crisis go to waste” because it affords an opportunity to try and accomplish big things. Watch lawmakers meet with Obama on the economy » “It’s time to own up rather than kick the can,” the senior official said. “The way to deal with these short-term problems is to jump in to the long-term” problems. Despite the challenges ahead, the official said top aides believe Obama is in a stronger position than any of his recent predecessors because he has a “different set of wins under his belt” this early in his presidency. The official noted that when Clinton delivered his first speech to a joint session of Congress he had only passed the Family and Medical Leave Act and was struggling politically because of the gays in the military flap. President Reagan, the official recalled, did not get his economic agenda passed until the summer of 1981. In contrast, Obama already has signed into law the sweeping economic plan, an expansion of children’s health insurance coverage and pay equity legislation. The senior official boasted that Obama has “gotten more done in 30 days … than any modern president.” Meanwhile, Attorney General Eric Holder will not attend Obama’s speech — for security reasons, a Justice Department official said. By tradition, one Cabinet member does not attend such speeches because so many government leaders — should disaster strike — are made vulnerable by being in the same place. But there will some special guests in the audience Tuesday night. Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who successfully landed a crippled US Airways flight in the Hudson River last month, will be a guest of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Pelosi’s office said. Read more about other special guests attending Obama’s speech also comes as a new poll indicates that nearly three out of four Americans are scared about the way things are going in the country. While Obama’s approval ratings are high, Americans are less hopeful about his stimulus plan. Read more about the poll
Tuesday night will be Obama’s chance to narrow the gap between voters’ confidence in him and their confidence in his plans, said James Carville, a Democratic strategist and CNN contributor. “He’s been in office for a month. They want to see more; that’s understandable,” he said. “But right now, people are not feeling very good, and they’re kind of pessimistic about their future. While they have a lot of trust in the president, they want to hear more, and I think they’ll hear a lot more.”