US & Canada

State of the Union: Obama to focus on economy

President Barack Obama's annual State of the Union speech later will focus on his plans for reviving the sluggish US economy, say White House officials.

Before a television audience of millions, the Democratic president is also expected to address thorny issues such as immigration and gun control.

Correspondents say he will lay out the agenda for his final four years, with an eye on his second-term legacy.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio will deliver the Republican party response.

Mr Obama will speak in the House of Representatives at 21:00 on Tuesday (02:00 GMT Wednesday).

Correspondents say the president is popular and has political capital to spend after November's election victory, but that he only has about a year to push his legislative plans.

Washington's attention will then turn to the 2014 mid-term elections, when the party in the White House usually sheds congressional seats, turning second-term presidents into "lame ducks".

Gallery guests

With millions of Americans still out of work, Mr Obama's prescriptions for the lethargic US economy are expected to dominate his speech.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said on Monday the president would outline his plans to help working families.

Mr Obama's economic blueprint is likely to have a familiar ring - he pledged during last year's election campaign to create a million manufacturing jobs during his second term.

He will also call for federal investment in infrastructure, clean energy and education, the White House has signalled.

But Republicans are strongly opposed to increased government spending, amid a rancorous political divide over how to tame the US budget deficit.

People on either side of the gun control debate, which flared up again after December's school massacre in Connecticut, will watch the president speak from the gallery above the rostrum.

First Lady Michelle Obama will sit with the parents of a Chicago teenage band majorette shot and killed just days after performing at last month's presidential inauguration.

Republican Representative Steve Stockman of Texas says he has invited musician Ted Nugent, a staunch gun-control opponent who remarked last year he would be "dead or in jail" if Mr Obama were re-elected.

Conservative divisions

The White House has proposed a ban on certain weapons and on high-capacity ammunition magazines, as well as universal background checks on gun buyers. But analysts say only the last of those measures stands much chance politically.

Image caption In the Republican response, Senator Marco Rubio is expected to attack the Obama economic plan

In his State of the Union speech, Mr Obama will announce the withdrawal of 34,000 US troops from Afghanistan by next year, White House officials say.

It seems likely that he will also address North Korea, which chose to conduct an underground nuclear test, just hours before the president's showpiece annual speech.

Supporters of gay rights and climate-change campaigners will be watching closely, after Mr Obama mentioned those issues in his inaugural address last month.

Mr Obama will take to the road in the coming days to push his economic recovery proposals, stopping in the US states of North Carolina, Georgia and in his hometown of Chicago, Illinois.

Senator Rubio, a possible 2016 Republican presidential candidate, is expected to attack Mr Obama's economic policies, as he delivers his party's official riposte.

The Cuban-American senator, who will make his address in English and Spanish, may find common ground with the president on immigration. Senator Rubio champions reform, albeit a more scaled-down version than the White House plan for a path to citizenship.

Underscoring conservative divisions, immediately after the Rubio speech Kentucky Senator Rand Paul will deliver the Tea Party's rebuttal to Mr Obama's address.

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