WASHINGTON - WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama will be looking across a vast partisan divide Tuesday night as he reports to Congress and the nation with his annual State of the Union speech, which is closely monitored as the blueprint for his goals for the year. They include job creation and a push for the ambitious progressive plans he outlined in his second inaugural address three weeks ago.
Obama hopes he can encourage lawmakers to join him in reforming laws on gun ownership and immigration and boosting taxes to raise government spending power. The president's priorities also include easing back on spending cuts and addressing climate change.
He'll also address the news from North Korea, which said it successfully detonated a nuclear device Tuesday in defiance of U.N. warnings. The White House said the president would make the case that the nuclear program had only further isolated the impoverished nation.
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A person familiar with Obama's State of the Union address said he will announce that 34,000 U.S. troops will be home from Afghanistan one year from Tuesday. That's about half the U.S. troops currently in Afghanistan. The decision marks the next phase in Obama's plans to end the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
The person provided the information on condition of anonymity to discuss the drawdown before the announcement.
Aware of the partisan gridlock gripping Washington, Obama is banking on his popularity and the political capital from his convincing re-election in November as he calls on Americans to join him in his vision for what he calls a fairer country with greater opportunity for all.
With Republicans in control of the House of Representatives and exerting influence in the Democratic-controlled Senate, Obama plans immediately afterward to make a two-day, three-state foray to take his message directly to the American people. Congress fought the president to a near standstill on virtually every White House initiative during his first term -- though he succeeded in overhauling the health care system.
In his second term, Obama has decided that he may stand a better chance of moving his agenda through Congress by drawing support from outside the capital rather than from within.
Massive federal spending cuts that will hit the U.S. economy on March 1 if a compromise isn't hammered out with Congress will surely color Obama's speech like nothing else. Some economists predict those cuts could push the United States back into recession even before it has fully recovered from the Great Recession -- the most serious economic downturn in more than 70 years.
The cuts will slice deeply into spending for the Pentagon and a range of social programs. Obama says he wants "a balanced approach" to tackling the spiraling deficit with a mix of increased tax revenue and cuts in spending.
The opposition declares it will not give ground on raising taxes.
While the deep cuts, which grew out of a failure to reach a deal in 2011, were conceived as a blow to the budget that is unacceptable to both parties, some Republicans are threatening to let it go forward if Obama does not agree to big cuts in the so-called social safety net programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, which provide health care and other assistance to the elderly and poor, as well as Social Security retirement benefits.
Obama also was expected to refocus on creating jobs in a country where the unemployment rate remains at nearly 8 percent. He failed to address the issue in any depth in his inaugural address, leaving his political opponents an opening to criticize him for ignoring an issue of over-riding importance.
Obama also is deeply invested in pushing for new laws aimed at curbing gun violence. Spurred by the mass shooting in December at a Connecticut school that killed 20 children and six adults, Obama and like-minded Democrats are pushing for tougher regulations requiring universal background checks for gun buyers and bans on military-style assault weapons and high-volume ammunition magazines.
He will no doubt return to the issue Tuesday night in the face of angry opposition from the National Rifle Association gun rights lobbying group, many Republicans and even some moderate Democrats. They say any change in gun laws would violate the Constitution's Second Amendment guarantee of the right to bear arms.
To underscore the president's position, first lady Michelle Obama will sit with the parents of a Chicago teenager shot and killed just days after she performed at the president's inauguration. Twenty-two House members have invited people affected by gun violence.
On the other side of the issue, Republican Rep. Steve Stockman says he's invited rocker Ted Nugent, a long-time gun control opponent who last year said he would end up "dead or in jail" if Obama won re-election.
Another presidential priority --