5 things you'll want to hear in tonight’s State of the Union speech

Jordan Fabian and Ted Hesson
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Make community college tuition-free. Brag about opening up diplomatic relations with Cuba. Keep Republicans on defense.

Most importantly, don't look like a lame duck.

Those are some of the key goals Obama should have in mind when he delivers the State of the Union address tonight if he wants to connect with young voters.


This year, the president broke with tradition and let loose some spoilers to his seventh annual speech to Congress. He unveiled big chunks of his domestic policy agenda, including those listed above, during visits to Michigan, Arizona, Tennessee, and Iowa over the past two weeks.

Here's what the president will be looking to accomplish.

1. Less gridlock, please.

In his speech, Obama will attempt to strike a balance between extending an olive branch to newly powerful Republicans in Congress on issues where there is bipartisan agreement—and taking executive action on issues where they disagree, according to Luis Miranda, former White House director of Hispanic media.

"He realizes that just trying to be cooperative with Republicans isn't going to cut it," Miranda said. "The executive actions are an indication he is going to be more firm in trying to advance his agenda."

2. Huh? Did he say free college?

When it comes to grabbing the attention of young people, the State of the Union can't really compete with Netflix, Playstation or even that old puzzle you found in the attic. But this time around, there's a pretty interesting proposal: the president wants to make the first two years of community college free.


The White House says the program could help up to 9 million people save an average of $4,000 per year on tuition.

There's a catch: the plan is part of the president's proposed budget and Republicans are likely to shoot it down. But the idea will appeal to a lot of folks struggling to pay tuition or student loans.


3. Cuba: not too controversial to boast about

The president infuriated a vocal subset of Cuban exiles when he decided to restore diplomatic relations with the island nation in December. But a strong majority of Americans think it's the right move.


According to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, 74 percent favor ending travel restrictions to Cuba and 68 percent support lifting the trade embargo.

For the first time in a while, he has popular support on a politically controversial issue. Why not enjoy it? He may even get some applause from members of Congress on the other side of the aisle.


The risk? He'll draw fire from Republicans who think the policy is soft on Cuba's dictatorial government.


"It's like red meat to the lions in Congress who are angry about this change and might want to push it back," said Sebastián Arcos, the associate director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University.

4. Let’s keep the Internet awesome

The Internet is this great place where you can travel to different websites without big companies dictating what you can see.


For now. Republicans in Congress have pushed for regulatory changes that would allow your Internet service provider to slow down the loading times for some websites and speed them up for others.

The president is against that. He's proposing that the Federal Communications Commission reclassify broadband providers under Title II of the Communications Act, which he believes will best preserve net neutrality.


"The FCC is an independent agency and ultimately this decision is theirs alone," the president said in a preview video. "But the public has already commented 4 million times, asking the FCC to make sure that consumers, not the cable company, get to decide which sites they use."

Now that the FCC is poised to impose strict net neutrality rules, key Republicans in Congress have changed their tune. They're reportedly considering legislation that would accomplish much of what Obama wants.


5. ICMYI: The economy!

After years of sluggish growth, the economy is finally looking up. The economy grew five percent in the third quarter of last year and 2014 was the best year for the job growth since 1999 (though wages have hardly budged). Oil prices are way down.


Amid the good news, Obama's approval has ticked up to 50 percent, according to a new Washington Post-ABC poll—the highest rating on that survey in almost two years.

Even though overseas events, such as the Paris terrorist attacks, have dominated the headlines, expect Obama to build on the positive economic momentum and focus much of his speech on domestic issues.


"States of the Unions are largely domestic affairs," said former White House official Luis Miranda. "The White House is very much understanding of what people want to know about: their economy, their situation, their ability to have opportunities."

Jordan Fabian is Fusion's politics editor, writing about campaigns, Congress, immigration, and more. When he's not working, you can find him at the ice rink or at home with his wife, Melissa.


Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.

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