Tune in to CNN and CNN.com tonight to watch President Obama’s State of the Unionaddress. CNN.com and Facebook are partnering up, allowing you to participate in the conversation as you watch online at CNN.com/live. Prime-time coverage with the best political team on television begins tonight at 8 ET.
Washington (CNN) — Hours away from what is arguably the most important address of his short presidency, President Obama will huddle with his top speechwriters to go over the latest revisions to his State of the Union address, according to White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.
Later Wednesday, Gibbs said, the president will get behind a podium to practice for his 9 p.m. address to the nation.
Aides say the speech will focus on job creation, helping the middle class, fighting the deficit and health care reform. But Gibbs said the president will also take responsibility for the political climate that has left a lot of Americans angry and frustrated, and he will express disappointment at how difficult it is to change the way Washington works.
Obama’s first State of the Union address comes against a backdrop of an American people nervous about the pace of economicrecovery.
In the days leading up to the speech, the White House started to lay out some of the measures Obama plans to take, announcing this week that the president will propose a three-year freeze on discretionary spending and that his middle-class task force recommended further tax credits and economic support measures.
On the eve of the speech, aides said the president would freeze salaries and bonuses for White House staffers.
The Republican response to the address will be delivered this year by newly minted Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who won a tough election battle last year against Democrat Creigh Deeds.
House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the test at Wednesday night’s speech will be whether Obama will offer merely a “rhetorical pivot, or are they really going to do something?”
But Boehner, wary of disrupting what he called the political wind at Republicans’ backs, is also warning his GOP rank and file to be respectful. The last time the president addressed Congress, Rep. Joe Wilson, R-South Carolina, famously yelled “you lie” at Obama.
“You invite someone to your home, you should be respectful and considerate,” Boehner said at a Wednesday morning breakfast.
Still, Boehner gave some insight into just how politically polarized Washington is right now by revealing that, besides occasional White House meetings with congressional leaders, he has “zero” private dialogue with the president or his top aides.
“I have not talked to Rahm Emanuel in a year,” Boehner said of the president’s chief of staff, a former House member. “It’s really shocking. … There’s just no interaction.”
The House GOP leader was careful to emphasize that he has a “great” relationship with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi but said, “we never talk about anything real. She and I talk about policy? I mean, why bother? And we both recognize it.
“The idea that they’re going to ask us for $500 million to fix up this prison in Illinois, and they’re going to ask us to change the law to allow them to bring these detainees here, is not going to pass the Congress. It’s not gonna happen,” Boehner said.
Looking ahead to some of the substance of Obama’s State of the Union address, Boehner called the idea to freeze some discretionary spending “a modest step in the right direction.”
Guests in the first lady’s box will include Kim Munley and Mark Todd, police officers who apprehended the Fort Hood shooting suspect in Texas last year. Other notables will include several military service members, students and dignitaries.