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Obama's Itty-Bitty Bounce Back

LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Im Liane Hansen.

President Barack Obama heads to Capitol Hill on Tuesday night to deliver the State of the Union Address - his first in front of the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives. And yesterday afternoon, he offered a preview.

President BARACK OBAMA: My principle focus, my number one focus, is going to be making sure that we are competitive, that we are growing, and we are creating jobs - not just now, but well into the future. And that's what is going to be the main topic of the State of the Union.

HANSEN: The president in a YouTube video he released yesterday.

Polls show more Americans approve of the job he's doing than in recent months.

NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson has been looking into whats at stake for the president, and what else we can expect to hear from him on Tuesday night. She joins us. Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON: Hi, Liane.

HANSEN: The president said yesterday, the economy will be the principle focus. Is it also likely he'll address the ideas of cooperation and unity in Washington?

LIASSON: Yes, he will talk about things where he thinks there is common ground with Republicans - like education and trade and fiscal responsibility. He certainly doesnt want to cut spending in the same way the Republicans do, but he will talk about cutting spending and re-examining regulations. I think that he will be stressing some of those themes of cooperation and unity, that he stressed in the Tucson memorial address. But he's also going to be laying out his vision for American competiveness and innovation.

HANSEN: And what other themes do you expect?

LIASSON: Well, I think the political goal for the president in this speech and over the next two years, and through his re-election campaign, is to convince Americans that he has an optimistic vision of how to make America number one again. That is what the White House says. They want the president to convince the American people that we're turning a corner; we have a tremendous amount of work to do in the economy, but the crisis is abating.

Big questions in the speech is how much detail is he going to give about tax reform, for instance, and deficit reduction. He's certainly going to talk about fiscal responsibility, but the deficit reduction commission gave him a strategy of combining tax reform - that is, lowering rates and broadening the base, which has support across the political spectrum - with deficit reduction.

And it sounds like he's not going to go into too much detail on that. He is going to talk about the importance of fiscal responsibility, but he also has to push back against the Republicans a little bit, who are calling for deep and immediate spending cuts. The president wants more spending on infrastructure and education and research. He doesnt want to get into the position where he's merely defending spending in the abstract, across the board.

He wants to put the Republicans on the defensive so that they have to explain why we shouldnt invest in infrastructure, education and research.

HANSEN: Last year, the president called out the Supreme Court. Justice Alito, of course, gestured back. Do you expect to see changes in terms of the tone and atmosphere?

LIASSON: Yes, I certainly do. We dont know how many Democrats and Republicans will be mixing and mingling - sitting with each other on the opposite sides of aisle. But the president definitely comes into the hall at a time when civility is the watch word. Everybody is going to be on their best behavior. I dont think you're going to see any kinds of confrontations like that.

HANSEN: And finally, what do you make of the fact that the Republicans have chosen the new head of the House Budget Committee to speak, congressman Paul Ryan from Wisconsin?

LIASSON: Well, what I make of that is that the Republicans are putting cutting spending first and foremost. Paul Ryan is associated with a budget plan that until now, hasnt had too many other Republicans signing on but calling for deep spending cuts, voucherizing Medicare for younger workers - really, a radical restructuring of government, a downsizing of government that he says is the answer to America's economic ills. And they're putting him front and center.

It tells you that they see the big battles, certainly in the next six months, as -over spending, spending and spending.

HANSEN: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you.

LIASSON: Thank you, Liane. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.