Barack Obama is preparing to make a key speech on US unemloyment, but as Channel 4 News examines, his own job is at risk as the president’s ratings plummet to new lows.
Tonight President Obama will speak in front of a special joint session of both houses of Congress, in a rescheduled speech to launch his $300bn plan for jobs. And the job he is most eager to save is his own.
The speech was rescheduled because the White House originally planned to make it last night, which would have clashed with the Republican presidential candidates’ debate.
Much to-ing and fro-ing later, the White House caved in, after House Speaker John Boehner actually refused Obama’s request – the first time that has ever happened.
All the partisan kvetching bodes ill for the tenor of important political debates ahead – and as for Obama and Boehner, they’ve apparently not spoken since the debacle.
All the partisan kvetching bodes ill for the tenor of important political debates ahead.
Back to the real meat, though, and the main elements in tonight’s speech have already been widely discussed. They are expected to include a mixture of tax cuts, infrastructure spending and aid to local governments to stave off more job losses – along with benefits to firms who hire unemployed workers, and some kind of moratorium on regulations, which has not gone down well with the left.
Other ideas are also kicking around – like some kind of mortgage relief plan for struggling homeowners, and training for the long-term unemployed.
Although this might sound fairly moderate – the spirit of bipartisanship is nowhere to be found. Not in the run up to an election year, anyway.
The Republicans, who are resolutely opposed to any kind of extra spending which isn’t offset by cuts elsewhere, have already trashed the proposals – Mitch McConnell describing the plan this morning as ‘more of the same failed approach that’s only made things worse over the past few years’. Some Republicans are even refusing to turn up at all.
But there’s also a groundswell of disappointment among the president’s own supporters – who feel the size and scope of the proposals don’t go nearly far enough. They are looking for inspiring ideas and fiery words, not the kind of compromise across the political aisle which – so far – has got Obama precisely nowhere.
According to the New York Times, Obama’s own team now believe they have just three months to redefine the narrative that has seen his ratings plummet and put his re-election hopes at risk.
More than 60 per cent of voters in the most recent Washington Post/ABC poll disapprove of the way he’s handling the economy; not a good position to be in ahead of a tough election campaign.
So a rebranding looks somewhat essential: Obama’s senior aides are trying to push an image of the President as “a pragmatic problem solver…a reasonable man in an era dominated by extreme views”.
In his favour, it’s not as if the Republicans have discovered a particularly compelling argument for their own plans, even if they have managed to build a case for deficit reduction as a key economic goal.
There is a new jobs plan from Mitt Romney – who battled to hold his own against the latest bright new hope, Rick Perry, in the (unrescheduled) GOP debate last night.
But it hasn’t exactly caught the imagination of the right – indeed the Wall St Journal, which might have been expected to endorse this package of spending cuts and corporate tax reductions, instead described it as ‘a technocrat’s guide rather than a reform manifesto’… which showed “he’s afraid of Mr Obama’s class warfare rhetoric”. Romney clearly has more work to do to energise his base.
Regardless, the White House recognises it will have to fight hard on the job creation front: the speech itself isn’t what’s important, they say – but what comes after.
So straight from Capitol Hill, the president will be heading out on the road to sell his ideas directly to voters. And not just any voters – he’ll be in Richmond, Virginia – the district represented by one of his biggest critics, House majority leader Eric Cantor.
It’s a state Obama managed to win back in 2008 – although Republican activists are already predicting that his presence there this week will simply fire up the right.
However, this is clearly no time to flinch from a fight – not when the stakes are so high. Once again, this is shaping up to be an election which revolves entirely around the economy – with jobs, or the lack of them, the biggest worry of all.
As Politico puts it, somewhat starkly – “no less than (Obama’s) presidency and the economic fate of millions of Americans is at stake.” No pressure there, then.
Felicity Spector is a chief sub-editor at Channel 4 News. Follow her on Twitter @FelicitySpector.