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U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Preview of the President's 2015 State of the Union Address

Allan Lichtman, American University Distinguished Professor of History
Washington, DC
January 16, 2015

2:00 P.M. EST


MR. LICHTMAN: Thank you very much. So I’ve got three words for you to describe American State of the Union Addresses. You ready? Boring, boring, and boring. (Laughter.) These are not the great memorable speeches of American history. Pop-quiz, because I’m a professor: How many of you heard President Obama’s 2014 State of the Union Address? How many remember a thing he said in the 2014? You’re better than I am if that’s the case, but these speeches are usually very quickly forgotten. That’s why my entire notes on State of the Union is a single page. In fact, I’m not going to talk at all about the State of the Union – yes I will.

But first, I want to briefly talk about the last election. How many of you were here for my briefing on the 2014 midterms? Any of you? Okay. Remember what I said? My key point, right, was what was going to decide the election. Do you remember? Turnout. The key was to look at the turnout numbers. And if the turnout numbers were low, below around the 40, 41 percent last time, you can expect a big Republican victory. If the turnout numbers were high, you could expect the Democrats to do well. Well, lo and behold, the turnout in 2014 was a little over 36 percent, well below the benchmark I’d established, and the lowest American turnout in a midterm election since World War II. We’re talking about 70 years of history. We’re talking about nearly two thirds of Americans not showing up in that midterm election with very predictable and successful results from Republicans who do better in low turnout elections, as compared to Democrats who do better in high turnout elections.

So that actually, believe it or not, does segue into the State of the Union Address. Because one of the things that Barack Obama has to do in this State of the Union Address is inspire the base, get Democrats and Democratic and liberal-leaning independents excited about politics once again. Always turnout increases in a presidential year over a midterm election year, but even in presidential years, Democrats bank on higher turnout and Republicans bank on lower turnout. Obviously, Barack Obama is not going to be running for office again 2016 for the simple reason that an amendment to the Constitution won’t let him do it. We’ve only had one president in all of American history serve in more than two terms. Anyone know who that was? Franklin Roosevelt, who served four terms, although he barely lived to serve his fourth term. Republicans were so unhappy about that, they passed – and most Democrats agreed – a constitutional amendment limiting presidents to two terms from Eisenhower onward.

So Obama won’t be running in 2016, but he is still going to set the tone for the Democratic campaign. I’ll talk about this a lot more next year, but the performance of the sitting president, whether the sitting president is running for re-election or not, is the crucial element in deciding whether the president’s party is going to get another four years in office. So my advice to Barack Obama: Forget about the Republicans. Forget about them. Don’t even think about doing things that are going to compromise with Republicans. What have they given you in six years? Zero, nothing, naught, nada. You should have learned from that. They’re not going to give you anything in the next two years, particularly given a presidential election upcoming. In fact, not only haven’t they given you anything, they’re trying to take away. How many votes have there been in the House to repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act? I’ve stopped counting there have been so many. And you just got a vote in the House to thwart the President’s executive order on legalizing the status of several million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

So this is not a speech to Republicans in Congress. This is not a speech to Republican voters out there; they’re not going to vote for you. This has got to be primarily a speech to the Democratic base and to possible Democratic recruits among swing/sway voters or independents. Energize your base, get people excited. And in fact, we’ve seen Barack Obama doing just that ever since the Republicans took over both houses of Congress in the midterm election. We have seen a new Barack Obama who has decided to act boldly on his own – the initiative towards normalizing relations with Cuba after more than 50 years of isolation, bold unilateral move on his part. We saw, of course, the executive orders on immigration. We saw the executive agreement with China, however tentative, very important on what may be still the most daunting issue humanity is going to face – not terrorism, but climate change, which will affect vastly larger numbers of people in more fundamental ways.

So Obama really has decided that he is going to pursue a bold agenda. We just saw yesterday a new initiative on methane gases, which, by the way, are far more treacherous in terms of releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than a plain old CO2. So this is the new Obama, and this is the Obama that is going to, if he was smart, emerge in the State of the Union Address. I think to some extent, he is going to do that, but I would not expect in this State of the Union Address some grand, new bold initiative on the order of reforming the healthcare system or opening up relations with Cuba or reforming the immigration system, although he may make some references to those.

I think it will rather be more along the lines of traditional State of the Union speeches. Number one, an expression, of course, that the union is strong. And in fact, one could make a fairly good case that the union is stronger going into this State of the Union Address than any State of the Union Address that Barack Obama has given thus far during his two terms in office. He’s got a lot of positive things that he could point to, most notably a finally strong recovery with a rapidly growing economy, with job creation that we haven’t seen since the 1990s, unemployment almost cut in half down from a peak of close – around 10 percent down to the middle 5 percent range, gas prices lower on a real basis of inflation adjusted than they have been virtually in any of our lifetimes. Let me – maybe not in my lifetime – I’m really old – but probably in your lifetimes, this is the lowest gas prices that we’ve ever seen. The deficit has been cut in half and more in terms of its relationship to gross domestic product.

After the disastrous rollout of the Affordable Care Act, it does seem to have been picking up steam and perhaps not fully achieving everything it wants, but rolling along fairly well. And if you look at the polls, the gap between those who disapprove and approve of the Affordable Care Act has actually been reduced. The poll I saw yesterday, the gap was only seven percentage points, very close to the margin of error of the polls.

For all the tragic events of terrorism elsewhere in the world, the United States on Barack Obama’s watch has been free of any significant terror attack. And he, of course, is going to talk about the challenges abroad, the strong response to ISIS, the continuing negotiations with Iran, and will, I think, plead with Congress not to impose new sanctions on Iran – to give the negotiations with Iran a chance and not give Iran an excuse to bust up the negotiations and blame the United States.

In domestic policy, which is usually the centerpiece of a State of the Union Address, because that’s what the American people care most about, I think you’re going to see a lot, as I mentioned, of small initiatives, not a grand earth-shakering – earth-shaking realignment type of policy.

What is he likely to push for? He has certainly signaled he’s going to push for a program to provide free two years of community college for high school graduates across the country, a smart thing to do knowing full well that education is essential. The old blue collar jobs in America, they’re not coming back. That is gone and to really succeed in the new economy, you need at least a modicum of education. You don’t have to be over-educated like I am with a Ph.D., but some college or even a college graduate degree is very important. And the gap between earnings of those who only graduate high school and those who graduate college is extremely large in the United States.

He’s going to push for new cybersecurity in light of all the hacking and cyber attack controversies. He is also going to push for broad internet access, what’s called broadband access to keep the internet open and make sure the internet is not taken over by commercial interests – I think something incredibly important for the future of the country.

He’s going to push for lower payments for federally insured mortgages, for some degree of tax reform. He might even be able to reach some agreement, although I doubt it, with Republicans on corporate taxes. They both seem to think corporate taxes are too high and loopholes are too wide.

One area where he’s going to run into trouble with his base, and I do think it’s really important he fire up his base, is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the big Asian trade detail. Labor unions, environmental advocates are very leery of these big free trade agreements, particularly when the details are not all revealed to the public and not clear. He actually has more agreement here with the Chamber of Commerce and the business roundtable than he does, for example, with the Sierra Club or the AF of L-CIO.

He’s also going to push for paid family leave for workers, not simply unpaid leave. And I think he’d very much like to have a new use of force authorization from the Congress. He said he can do what he’s doing abroad by going it alone, but that’s often politically perilous, and I think he wants more cover than he currently has for his foreign initiatives, particularly the campaign against ISIS.

As I said, don’t expect something big and earth-shattering. And for the most part, that’s not been what State of the Unions have been used for. There have been some very big proposals coming out of State of the Union Addresses, but not recently. For the biggest one, you gotta go back almost 200 years to 1823. How many of you are here from Europe? Do you know what the United States did to kick sand in the face of Europe in 1823? The Monroe Doctrine announced in a State of the Union Address telling the European powers stay out of the Western Hemisphere, very audacious for a fledgling nation like the United States, which, of course, had absolutely no power at that time to enforce the Monroe Doctrine.

Perhaps the most moving State of the Union Address in U.S. history was delivered, not surprisingly, by none other than Franklin Roosevelt. In the midst of world war in 1941, he articulated in his State of the Union Address the moving, inspiring four freedoms that still fire our imaginations today. And we still, as we can see in this troubled world, have yet to achieve freedom from fear – hardly; freedom from want – hardly; freedom of religion – just look at what’s happening around the world; freedom of speech – still a very much controverted issue. The four freedoms so eloquently articulated by Franklin Roosevelt more than 70 years ago still represent a dream, not a reality for people across the world.

Of course, Lyndon Johnson in 1964 set forth in his State of the Union Address the war on poverty, and Ronald Reagan in his first State of the Union Address indicated that he would take a new approach to governing, one in which the government would not be the solution to our problems but would be, in fact, a problem to be solved. And that State of the Union was part of a very important redefinition of American politics by Ronald Reagan and the beginning of a conservative era in American politics and changing the conversation about politics.

Since then, we tend to remember State of the Unions more for their queasy, ironic moments than anything else. My favorite is what Bill Clinton said in 1996. Anybody know what he said? “The era of big government is over.” Perhaps the most inaccurate statement by an American president in the history of the country. The federal budget has tripled since the days of Bill Clinton. And of course, we remember George W. Bush talking about the Axis of Evil and then getting into a multiyear scandal and controversy over his claims about Iraq seeking nuclear material in other countries.

And while we don’t remember much about what Barack Obama has particularly said in his addresses, we do remember that famous unspoken exchange – never happened before or since – back in 2010, I believe, between Barack Obama and Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, when Obama was criticizing the Supreme Court decision on campaign finance. And Alito just sat there shaking his head. You very rarely see direct confrontations between two branches of government like that.

So Obama’s task – and I’m not sure he’ll fully do it, I think he’ll only partly do it – is use this speech as the springboard for [2106], continue to be the bold Barack Obama. Don’t worry whatsoever about Republicans, and speak directly to the American people. And for God’s sakes, don’t worry for one moment about the opposition response. Perhaps the most thankless task in all of Washington, D.C. is the task of delivering the opposition response to the President’s State of the Union Address. The President’s State of the Union Address, of course, is constitutionally mandated in Article 2 of the Constitution, which says the President from time to time has to give reports about the state of the union. Opposition response is not mandated. It started back in the 1960s and has been a dreary tradition ever since, and very much of a graveyard for politicians. You’ve got Democrats like Jim Webb, who is now out of politics although he’s starting an abortive presidential campaign. Kathleen Sebelius, what is she famous for? The disastrous rollout of Obamacare. Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana who killed off any presidential hopes he may have with one of the weakest and most faltering responses. And of course, the most disastrous example of all is Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia, who just got sentenced to two years in federal prison, not because of what he said in the State of the Union response that he gave, but it’s kind of indicative of the State of the Union response curse. Nothing negative about Joni Ernst, but Joni, beware: Your political career may be a lot shorter than you think it is.

And the audience is going to be a lot smaller. You’re talking about a country of 330 million people, even taking out the children it’s a pretty big country, and probably no more than 30 million will actually watch the President’s State of the Union. That’s going to be down from Obama’s high point, of course, his first one, which was about 52 million. Bill Clinton back in the ‘90s addressed almost 70 million in a smaller country. It just shows again the dwindling interest and the need to stir up and inspire interest in politics because it does not ordinarily occur.

So I started out by saying States of the Unions are boring, boring, boring, and my advice to Obama is make your speech as unboring, unboring, unboring as you possibly can. You have it in you, just don’t listen to the handlers, the consultants, and the pollsters and the admen, and I’m sure you’ll do fine.

Thank you very much. I’ll take questions. I have a couple of ground rules. Number one, ask questions, don’t make speeches. Maybe next time if they invite you here, you can make speeches. And number two, don’t ask me anything about the opera, and we will just be fine.

Way in the back there.

QUESTION: Thank you, professor. Richard Latendresse with TVA, Canadian TV. Two quick questions: Do you expect anything precise like on Keystone XL? That would be one way to fire up the bases, by saying, “I will not approve this.”

MR. LICHTMAN: Yeah, let me deal with that and then I’ll get your next one. Keystone XL is obviously a big issue in Canada. It’s much less of a big issue here, to tell you the truth. The polling does show people are for it, but it doesn’t register as a really salient issue here. It registers as salient among two groups: one, of course, the Republican business base; and two, on the opposite side, the Democratic environmentalist base. It is, in my view, quite ironic that Republicans – and I’m not going to insult Canada here, so don’t get upset – that Republicans finally take over both houses of Congress, and what’s their huge initiative? A pipeline to help Canadians sell oil to Japan. I’m not against that, but it is a bit ironic. I do think you’re right. I do think if he comes out with a ringing attack on the Keystone saying “I’ve got my” – Bill Clinton did this once – “I’ve got my veto pen here and it’s ready,” that would inspire the base. I’m not sure he’s going to do that, but you put your finger on something important. Your other question?

QUESTION: Yes, my second question – actually, I just really want you to repeat that you don’t – from one speech of the union and to the other, we heard bipartisan initiatives. And the – are any words – I mean, attempts were made or expectations were there. You don’t expect anything on that level?

MR. LICHTMAN: I think he might make some rhetorical pass at bipartisan – just for one reason – because the American people are caught up in this myth of bipartisanship. They still think it’s possible, they still like it, they still believe in the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus and all those other things. But I think for the most part, he’s going to tell the American people what he thinks should be done, not tell the American people what he thinks the Republicans would agree on. And if he does the latter, I think it would be a huge mistake.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. LICHTMAN: Wait for the microphone.

QUESTION: Thank you. Bryant Harris with Yomiuri Shimbun – it’s a Japanese newspaper.

MR. LICHTMAN: I know it well. I’ve been interviewed before.

QUESTION: Thank you. Okay. So with regard to TPA, you mentioned that State of the Union is mostly about firing up the base; however, he’s also mentioned free trade as something he can work with Republicans with. So do you think he’ll bring up trade promotion authority in the State of the Union at all?

MR. LICHTMAN: I think he will. He’s talked about it enough, he’s signaled it enough. It would just be a huge omission to leave it out. And while that does leave his base more than cold, you’re absolutely right; it is something he can probably get out of the Republican Congress. This is one of the fundamental transformations of U.S. history that you may not be familiar with. Until around the era of Ronald Reagan – around – the Republican Party was the protectionist party. In fact, for much of its history, high protective tariffs for American industry were the highlight of Republican policy. That began to turn around with Ronald Reagan – and the Democrats, who had traditionally been staunch free traders. In fact, anybody know who the first president was to restore the tradition of delivering an in-person State of the Union after Thomas Jefferson stopped it? It was Woodrow Wilson in 1913. It went over 100 years without an in-person State of the Union. And you know what his entire State of the Union message was devoted to? Free trade.

Now it’s all turned around with the political parties, and the protectionism tends to be more in the labor, environmental wing of the Democratic Party. But I don’t think he can whiff on this. I don’t think he can leave it out of the State of the Union.

And I’m going to go to the – New York next after this – go ahead. After.

QUESTION: Hyodong Roh with the Yonhap News Agency of South Korea.


QUESTION: My understanding is cyber security is a top priority --

MR. LICHTMAN: Correct.

QUESTION: -- for the U.S. this year after the Sony hacking attack.


QUESTION: I think President Obama will send a strong message regarding that.

MR. LICHTMAN: Absolutely correct.

QUESTION: Yeah. What I’m wondering is, will there be any mention of North Korea, or what kind of message will be there? Thank you.

MR. LICHTMAN: I don’t think he’ll make too much of North Korea, because that doesn’t get him very far, so if he talks about North Korea at all, I think it’ll be much in passing. I don’t think we’ll hear about the axis of evil again the way we did with George W. Bush. But I think cyber security is probably another area where he can get some – who’s against cyber security, after all? Unlike broadband access, where I do think there’s going to be a huge, ugly partisan fight, I think cyber security is something that is in the cards in this next year.

New York.

QUESTION: Hi, James Reinl, Al Jazeera. Thank you so much for the briefing today.

MR. LICHTMAN: What did you say? What? You’re --

QUESTION: James Reinl, Al Jazeera.


QUESTION: Can you hear me?

MR. LICHTMAN: Yes, got it.

QUESTION: Yeah. Thanks for your briefing. I take your point about the State of the Union Address mostly being about domestic policy. Still, my interest is foreign policy, and particularly in the Middle East. I’m wondering if you think the President will touch upon any of the big issues – Middle East peace, Islamic State – you mentioned the Iranian nuclear already, so don’t go into that – and maybe even something in the wake of the Paris attacks about terrorism on Western targets --

MR. LICHTMAN: I think yes, yes, and yes.

QUESTION: -- and seeing as we’re on foreign policy, maybe something on Russia too.

MR. LICHTMAN: I think yes, yes, yes, and yes. I think he’ll talk about all of those things. He has to talk ISIS and the campaign against ISIS because he wants a new authorization of force resolution from the Congress. He has to talk about the recent French terrorist attacks and the new level of – I hate to use the term “war on terror,” by the way. I think that’s one of the most misguided terms, about as misguided as the war on drugs. Hey, how long has the war on drugs been going on? Since the 1920s? Have we won the war on drugs? You can’t – of course not. You can’t win a war against drugs any more than you can win a war against terror. It’s just a terrible term. But he’s certainly going to talk about terror – problems with terrorism and terrorist initiatives. He’s certainly going to talk about negotiations with Iran because he doesn’t want, as I said, the Congress to pass new sanctions. And there he’s bucking not only Republicans; he’s bucking a lot of Democrats who are on the sanctions bandwagon as well.

I don't know if he’s going to talk at all or more than passing about Israel or Palestinian peace initiatives. Doesn’t have a whole lot to crow about when it comes to that area. And of course, he’s no different from any other American president. I remember back in 19 – I don’t remember, but I read about it – actually I’m probably old enough to remember Eisenhower said – President – 1956 – “Nothing will be solved in the Middle East until we solve the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” 59 years ago, and we’re still about where we were during the Eisenhower Administration, unfortunately.

QUESTION: Thank you. Sonia Schott, Diario Las Americas. I just want to go back to your comment when you said that it is going to be – I mean, the State of the Union is going to be like the Democrats or the President saying to the Republicans something like “Don’t mess with me,” or something like that. And I was wondering if it was always the case and there is no point when both would agree on something in the State of the Union.

MR. LICHTMAN: No. It’s – yeah.

QUESTION: I mean Republicans and Democrats, if you can --

MR. LICHTMAN: No, that’s not.

QUESTION: -- comment on that. Thank you.

MR. LICHTMAN: That’s by no means always been the case. What we have today in Washington, unfortunately, is the highest degree of political polarization in the modern history of the United States. That’s not an opinion. That is actually – I don’t measure this, but that is actually an objective measurement by political scientists who measure polarization. And they measure it objectively by looking at votes in the U.S Senate and the U.S. House, and seeing on controversial matters how often Republicans and Democrats diverge. And if you look at the curves, it’s a steady upward curve, and it’s almost at one; that is, there’s almost no overlap whatsoever on controversial matters between the two parties. How many votes from Republicans did the Affordable Care Act get in either house of Congress? Anybody know? Zero – the only major piece of social legislation in the history of the United States to be enacted with no – zero – opposition support. Today, the most liberal Republican is still virtually more conservative than the most conservative Democrats. The two curves open up entirely.

So we are seeing something pretty unique. Back in the era of Bill Clinton, when he talked about ending welfare as we know it and raise the minimum wage, he actually got Republican agreement on that. You actually got the big package in 1996 of a compromise between the Republicans and the Democrats. Republicans got much their version of welfare reform, and the Democrats got an increase in the minimum wage. So it’s not as if bipartisan compromise isn’t possible. It’s just become so much more difficult given the new levels of polarization.

QUESTION: This could – you don’t see this could happen this time?

MR. LICHTMAN: I do see – I think I pointed to --

QUESTION: Is there anything that we can see that they are both going to agree on something?

MR. LICHTMAN: I think that there are a couple of things that they could agree on, and I think I pointed some of those out. Cyber security – I mean, that’s pretty non-controversial. I mean, I’m not an expert; I can’t tell you the details, but no one’s opposed to that. Perhaps some kind of tax reform, but I’m much less optimistic about that. And perhaps the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Other questions? Yeah. Good man, waiting for the mic. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Hi. I’m Daniel from German television ZDF. You were just talking about the highest level of polarization that has been here for a very long time, or even in history.

MR. LICHTMAN: Modern history.

QUESTION: Modern history?

MR. LICHTMAN: I mean, the Civil War was pretty polarizing. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Think we won’t get back to this level, hopefully.

MR. LICHTMAN: No, we’re not going to do that.

QUESTION: Now, do you think this level could decline again at some point, or is this, in your opinion, an inevitable outcome of processes like medialization of politics or other processes? What’s your opinion on that?

MR. LICHTMAN: It’s a very shrewd question. Anybody here from Great Britain? I’m going to quote a Great British prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, who said “Finality is not a word we use in politics.” So I’m always reluctant to say it can’t change, it’s final, it’s finished – I won’t say that. But I will say it’s going to very, very difficult for this to change. Let me just give you a few reasons why.

Number one, redistricting. As you know, every 10 years, the state legislatures redraw all the districts for electing all the members of Congress, all the members of the state legislature, and all the members of local legislatures as well. And the problem there is they draw districts, obviously, to favor their own political party – to put Democrats, if it’s a Democrat doing it, in relatively safe Democratic districts; Republicans, if Republicans are doing it, in relatively safe Republican districts. And so the problem is, in most of the districts, what are they afraid about? A primary challenge, either from their left or their right. There’s no pressure to move to the center in order to win a general election, since you’re in a pretty safe seat as well.

And you also talked about – today, everyone is a political potentate. Everyone is a media star. And you’re not going to become a media star – you’re not going to make a splash – by being moderate, middle, compromising. The old Bob Dole style of politics just doesn’t get you anywhere any longer today. So there are – that’s just a couple of the many factors that contribute to polarization.

And perhaps the third, biggest one is the fundamental realignment of American politics that took place in the late 20th century, and that is the transformation of the American South. From the Civil War till the mid to late 20th century, the South was overwhelmingly Democratic. And Southern Democrats were the moderate conservative wing of the Democrat Party, moving the party to the right – names like Sam Nunn, Sam Ervin, and John Stennis, John Brough – conservative to moderate Democrats.

That’s all changed. They’re all gone for the most part. And who are they replaced by? Very, very conservative Republicans like Saxby Chambliss or Thad Cochran and others. There’s a – today Republicans – Ted Cruz – control almost all the Senate seats in the South and almost all the House seats. And what House seats do the Democrats control? Anybody know what the composition of the House seats that are left to the Democrats in the South? They’re African American seats and they’re Latino or Hispanic seats. If you look across a swath of states – South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi – the only Democrats – and if you include Texas, the only Democrats in office for the most part are African Americans and Hispanics who are very, very liberal.

So the South, which once kept the Democrats more moderate, now pushes the Democrats to the left and it now pushes Republicans to the right. And so that whole transformation of politics is imbedded into the structure, and these things are not unfortunately likely to change any time soon.

QUESTION: I’m Yujuan Jiang with Xinhua News Agency. And my question is about what kind of – what are the economic issues the President might touch upon besides the tax reform and free trade? And is the – will the – financial regulation will be one of the topics the President will touch upon? Thank you.

MR. LICHTMAN: I think the President might touch on financial regulation, but I don’t expect financial regulations to be a centerpiece of the speech. I think he might talk again, as he always talks, about rebuilding infrastructure – we do have a lot of crumbling infrastructure bridges, roads in the United States – and talk about the need to make the transition towards clean, alternative sources of energy. The move towards the green economy has also been a centerpiece. And of course, as I mentioned, perhaps he will highlight most of all education with his free community college proposal. That’s not Social Security, it’s not shaking up the country, but it’s important. The idea of providing free community college education to everyone is a pretty interesting and new idea that he is very much going to tie to the economy.

And he’s also going to crow about the economy. He’s going to talk about how strong the economy is. What do we have, 5 percent growth in the last quarter, steadily 2- to 300,000 jobs created every year, unemployment down to 5.6 percent. If you look at the consumer confidence index, it’s the highest it’s been in a very long time.

And by the way, there is some good news in the polls for the President. He wished this would have happened a couple of months ago, but he’s actually inched up in the polls. He’s – if you’re going to look at the Gallup poll, which is the most consistent tracking poll, he’s pulled from about 10 points down to almost even; that is, almost as many approve as disapprove of the President in the Gallup poll. So his standing in public opinion – there were some outlier polls too like Reuters, Ipsos, but for the most part, the polls show he’s improved since the election. Happy tales for him. But he is in a stronger position than he has been in a long time.

And usually, you do get a slight bump in the polls as result of the State of the Union. As I said, nobody listens to the opposition, so it’s really a free shot at the American people.

Way in the back there, one of my buddies.

QUESTION: Thank you. Simon Carswell with the Irish Times. You mentioned about the dreary tradition of the opposition response. The choice of Joni Ernst, given that she’s going to be a senator for all of two weeks, can you tell me a little bit about what your interpretation is of her – of the choice – Republican choice of her to give the opposition response?

MR. LICHTMAN: Yeah, I think it’s a bit of a risky choice given the lack of experience, but there are some reasons I believe – they don’t talk to me, nobody talks to me – about why they chose her. First, she won a very important victory for them in guess what state, and why does that state matter in 2016 – Iowa, right, the first in the nation selection process. It’s not a primary; it’s a caucus, but it’s the first in the nation selection process for the 2016 campaign. She’s also a woman, and if you look back to the last year, they had two women: Cathy McMorris Rodgers, and – giving the response – and Representative Ros-Lehtinen, a Hispanic-American giving a Spanish response. And before that, they had Marco Rubio, an Hispanic.

So they know they’re not doing all that well with women and minorities, so they’ve tended to pick women and minorities. And Joni Ernst gives a very good appearance – she’s a veteran, she’s not on the wild fringe of the Republican Party. So while the inexperience might count against her, they thought she performed very well in the Iowa campaign – Iowa is a crucial state – and they wanted a well-spoken woman.

Any other questions? Okay, thank you very much.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. With that, we close the briefing and thank you everybody for coming, and we’ll see what happens on Tuesday.

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