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First Thoughts: Obama's last best chance to set the agenda

Previewing tomorrow’s State of the Union: It’s Obama’s last best chance to set the agenda… Also previewing the issues he’ll touch on… Three takeaways from last week’s RNC meeting… Rand Paul and the politics of association… Paul resurrects Lewinsky attack on the Clintons… What’s largely out of Hillary’s control: All the people from her orbit seeking relevancy... And Radel to resign from Congress.

'*** Obama’s last best chance to set the agenda: On the eve of President Obama’s State of the Union address, White House advisers realize that his speech is shaping up to be his last best chance to set the agenda in the nation’s capital before he leaves office. (Why? Because his next State of the Union will take place at the start of 2016 presidential contest, and his final one will occur in the middle of it.) As a result, the White House is fearful of headlines like this one -- “Obama Pursuing a Modest Agenda in State of the Union” -- because they do want to set the agenda, but they know what’s achievable (taking up executive actions, maybe getting something on immigration) and what isn’t (getting Congress to do much of anything else). “The president will seek out as many opportunities as possible to work with Congress in a bipartisan way,” White House Senior Adviser Dan Pfeiffer said yesterday. “But when American jobs and livelihoods depend on getting something done, he will not wait for Congress." Aides swear that after he gives the State of the Union, the perception will NOT be that he’s playing “small ball.” So because the White House knows that this State of the Union could very well be the last big one for this president, and because they need the public to tune in, it’s why they appear to using every online gadget in their social media toolbox. Just see here.

*** Previewing the SOTU issue terrain: As far as issues go, the theme of Obama’s speech will be about income inequality and spurring economic mobility. So you’re going to hear a lot about education, job training and of course raising the minimum wage. The buzz word of the speech will be something familiar to Clinton-era reporters: “opportunity.” Everything the president talks about under the topic of economic mobility will be about giving folks an “opportunity” to educate themselves, an “opportunity” to move up the ladder, etc. He’ll also obviously talk about the health-care law; after all, it’s an opportunity to push uninsured Americans to sign up for coverage. (You can’t pass up a captive audience of potential customers, right?) Obama will emphasize climate change. And not surprisingly, foreign policy will be a back-burner subject. He’ll mention pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, as well as asking for time to see if a long-term deal with Iran can be struck. But there will be no new foreign-policy pronouncements.

*** Three takeaways from the RNC meeting: We have three takeaways from last week’s RNC winter meeting in DC. First, Republicans have worked to shorten the primary calendar and lengthen the general election. But in the process, are they overlearning the lesson from 2012, which was a presidential contest with an incumbent facing re-election (and not the free-for-all open seat you’ll see in 2016?) The calendar, as it is set up now, will favor the early momentum candidate even more than usual, but is that what the party REALLY wants? Second, the GOP is still having a difficult time communicating with female voters, especially when the issue of contraception comes up. Republicans can claim all they want that the media blew Mike Huckabee’s comments out of proportion and in some cases misrepresented what he said. But the RNC was the one that allowed him to speak on women’s issues and contraception in the first place. Why pick the guy who was the LAST major establishment Republican to stand behind Todd Akin? Huckabee talking about economic populism makes a lot of sense for the GOP, but Huckabee turning to the issue of contraception doesn’t. Third, the RNC passing a resolution condemning the NSA -- and praising Edward Snowden -- was an unspoken full rebuke to George W. Bush’s legacy on national security. Yes, it was just one resolution. But here is something to consider: Just as more and more veterans of the Bush years are stepping further into the political spotlight (Ed Gillespie, Condi Rice, Barbara Comstock), the party is largely rebuking his legacy (whether it’s criticizing deficit spending, bailouts, and now the NSA).

*** Rand Paul and the politics of association: And that, of course, brings us to Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). Over the weekend, the New York Times ran a fascinating -- and long -- profile of his family’s involvement in the libertarian movement. As much as Rand Paul has done to moderate his libertarianism for a more mainstream audience, the Times article suggests that he could have a potential Jeremiah Wright problem in 2016: his father and his father’s supporters. It’s clear that the Paul family doesn’t harbor racist views (and Rand has gone out of his way to try to court the African-American vote). But the libertarian movement has most definitely attracted, well, some very controversial folks who could prove to be problematic for the younger Paul  in a presidential bid. The 2008 race proved that the politics of association doesn’t always succeed. And don’t be surprised if Rand tries to borrow a page from Obama’s playbook when it comes to defending yourself against the politics of association. He was fairly adroit at handling the question on “Meet the Press” yesterday: “[D]on't be trashing my dad too much. That's my dad, you know? But the thing is I would say that my dad was extraordinary in Washington in being genuine, being really liked by people on both sides, being close to people from the conservative wing of the party but also very close to the Congressional Black Caucus as well.” He made the attack personal, which is borrowing a page from the Obama playbook.

*** Paul resurrects Lewinsky attack against the Clintons: Perhaps the biggest news from Paul’s “Meet the Press” interview was his blast-from-the-past attack on Bill (and by extension Hillary) Clinton. It also was a nimble defense of the “war on women” attack from Democrats. The topic came up when Paul was asked to defend his wife’s criticism of Bill Clinton. Instead of dodging the question, he agreed with the premise of his wife’s critique: “One of [Democrats’] big issues is they have concocted and said Republicans are committing a war on women. One of the workplace laws and rules that I think are good is that bosses shouldn't prey on young interns in their office. And I think really the media seems to have given President Clinton a pass on this,” Paul said. “He took advantage of a girl that was 20 years old and an intern in his office. There is no excuse for that, and that is predatory behavior, and it should be something we shouldn't want to associate with people who would take advantage of a young girl in his office. This isn't having an affair… Someone who takes advantage of a young girl in their office? I mean, really. And then they have the gall to stand up and say, ‘Republicans are having a war on women’? So, yes, I think it's a factor. Now, it's not Hillary's fault. And, I mean but it is a factor in judging Bill Clinton in history.” One of the things that potential 2016 Republicans will have to show is that they have the guts to take on the Clintons and are willing to play hardball if necessary. Rand Paul certainly passed that challenge yesterday.

*** What’s largely out of Hillary’s control: All the former Clinton folks desperately looking for relevancy: Speaking of the Clintons, the New York Times had a great read about Planet Hillary -- and all the different folks who are orbiting around her and her husband. “Unlike Barack Obama, who will leave the White House with more or less the same handful of friends he came in with, the Clintons occupy their own unique and formidable and often exhausting place in American politics. Over the decades, they’ve operated like an Arkansas tumbleweed, collecting friends and devotees from Bill Clinton’s kindergarten class to Yale Law School to Little Rock to the White House to the Senate and beyond.” Perhaps the biggest challenge for Hillary if she runs for president is how all of these people orbiting her is largely out of her control. There are a A LOT of folks who will be looking for relevancy, especially if she runs. Just check out this activity, via the Washington Post: “Ready for Hillary, an independent super PAC trying to organize grass-roots supporters behind Clinton, hosted five separate roundtable sessions Saturday that were attended by a total of well over 100 Democratic leaders and ­activists. The group recently organized in New Hampshire and is planning visits to South Carolina and Nevada — all early states on the presidential calendar.” The two main players in Iowa this weekend: Craig Smith and Teresa Vilmain… Blasts from the past!

*** Radel to resign from Congress: And lastly, NBC’s Mike O’Brien confirms the news that Rep. Trey Radel (R-FL) will resign from Congress. This comes after his arrest on cocaine-possession charges.