President to sound familiar themes in State of the Union

Washington — President Obama’s State of the Union Address to the nation tonight will have little that’s new, and instead focus mainly on themes the White House has promoted for months, if not years.

The president will focus on manufacturing, the need for better roads and bridges, clean energy and education in his prime-time address, a White House official said.

He will also call for “common sense” steps on immigration reform and gun control, seeking bipartisanship on those issues.

The violence in Newtown, which touched off Obama’s gun control campaign, will color his talk, as will the audience at the joint session of Congress.

A number of Democrats have invited guests with connections to Newtown and family members of victims of gun violence elsewhere to watch the president’s speech from the House gallery.

First Lady Michelle Obama’s guests include Kaitlin Roig of Greenwich, a first-grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 children and six adults were killed Dec. 14.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is bringing a 4th grader from Newtown who started an online petition to change gun laws. The little girl also wrote members of Congress “what everyone in Newtown wants is for you to ban semi automatic weapons and large capacity magazines and to make everyone use guns safely.”

The girl’s mother is also Pelosi’s guest.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, invited Carlos Soto, the brother of slain Sandy Hook Elementary School teacher Victoria Soto.

“Having Carlos at the State of the Union will be a powerful reminder that the victims of gun violence are not statistics,” DeLauro said.

The longtime congresswoman said it’s important for the president to use his “bully pulpit” to reach out to Americans on the issue.

But Obama will also be addressing many congressional Republicans and a smaller group of Democrats who tend to be supporters of the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups.

“Some will never be persuaded and some will be persuaded on such a significant issue,” DeLauro said. “Lots of (lawmakers) have been already moved.”

Rep. Elizabeth Esty, the freshman 5th Congressional District Democrat who represents Newtown in the House, has asked Sandy Hook teacher Natalie Hammond, who was wounded during the mass shooting at her school Dec. 14.

Esty said she invited Hammond “because I think it puts a human face on gun violence.”

Esty also said she hoped Obama would call for a comprehensive approach to gun control. There’s concern among gun control advocates that Obama will stop pushing hard for the reinstatement of assault weapons and high-capacity magazine clip bans, which faces strong resistance in Congress.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said he’s bringing Newtown Selectman Patricia Llodra to Tuesday night’s speech, and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., invited detectives Daniel McAnaspie and Jason Frank, both of Newtown’s police department.

Because all lawmakers receive only one guest ticket, only McAnaspie will attend the speech. But both of Murphy’s guests will attend a traditional Senate dinner for guests held in the Capitol before the State of the Union.

But victims of Newtown’s tragedy won’t be the only ones whose presence at the president’s prime time speech is aimed at helping to sway public opinion on gun control.

About 20 Democratic lawmakers plan to bring gun violence victims from their states or districts to the president’s address.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said he plans to bring Carol Price, a Maryland woman who lost her son to gun violence. The death of Price’s son led to the passage of legislation in Maryland requiring trigger locks on firearms.

Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, will invite Curtrina Murphy of Bridgeport, whose 3-year-old daughter was hit by crossfire as a result of gang violence. The little girl recovered from her wounds.

Blumenthal said he hopes the presence of so many Newtown residents and shooting victims at the president’s speech will toughen the spine of lawmakers who are wavering on gun control.

“To be blunt, there is talk of backing off the assault weapons ban and high-capacity magazine ban,” Blumenthal said.

Murphy agreed that the attendance of shooting victims would exert strong influence.

“Members of Congress who want to water down the legislation or don’t want the legislation need to be confronted,” he said.

Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said it “makes sense” for the president to push hard for gun control in the State of the Union, even if he does not succeed in winning congressional approval for his most ambitious proposals, especially the reinstatement of an assault weapons ban.

“He’ll get half a loaf on gun violence, an unexpected victory,” Mann said.

There is still hope among gun-control advocates that Congress will approve legislation to expand FBI background checks, increase federal penalties for gun trafficking and take other steps short of banning any type of gun or ammunition sales.

The president faces an uphill climb on other issues, too, Mann said.

He said the president, despite his decisive electoral victory, continues to face a very conservative majority in the House and a Senate “prone to holds and filibusters.”

He also noted that differences between Democrats and Republicans on taxes and spending have not narrowed.

“The best bet is that the months ahead will be as contentious and ugly as the entire 112th Congress,” Mann said.

Esty, who is serving her first term in Congress, said it may be easier for the president to promote his agenda this year because Obama’s re-election “is a referendum for the president.”

“We all, as a country, are tired of treading water. We need to move forward,” she said.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a possible GOP candidate for president in 2016, will give the Republican response to the president’s address, and for the first time in history, it will be given both in English and Spanish. Sen. Rand Paul from Kentucky is to give the tea party’s reponse to the State of the Union.