President Obama will address the nation Tuesday in his final State of the Union speech, as he seeks to reflect on achievements and prepare the ground for the future – both his final months in office, and his hoped-for Democratic successor.
The question of his legacy may hinge on having a like-minded successor, as Republicans have repeatedly threatened to tear apart some of his signature achievements if they gain the White House.
And yet he also is expected to emphasize the unity of this country, to counter the popular image of a nation rent in two by political differences.
“There’s no doubt that politics in Washington are so much more divided than the American people are,” Obama told NBC.
“Part of what I want to do in this last address is remind people we have a lot of good things going for us. And if we can get our politics right, it turns out we are not as divided on the ideological spectrum as people make us out to be.”
In that same interview, the president spoke of the challenges the United States has faced over the past 10 years – “Katrina, the Iraq war, the worst financial crisis of our lifetime” – and he said people should acknowledge how far the country has come.
Indeed, as The Washington Post reports, 2015 was the second-best year since 1999 for job gains in the US, with 2.65 million new positions.
But there is still much the president hopes to tackle in his final year, focusing on such areas as the Trans Pacific Partnership on trade, the closure of the Guantánamo Bay prison, and perhaps most particularly, gun control.
Last week after an emotional speech, the president introduced a series of executive actions on gun control that included tightening background checks for sales made at gun shows.
While Obama has said he will not endorse any candidates until after the primaries, which is not uncommon for a sitting president, it is supposed that Mrs. Clinton would be his preferred successor.
"I think Barack Obama believes that it is incredibly important that Hillary Clinton succeeds him," a former close aide to Obama who is still connected with the White House told CNN. "The only way that we have an economy where people aren't losing their health care is if Hillary Clinton becomes president."
Republican nominees, including front-runners Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, have vowed to revoke Obama's executive orders, if elected. And Republican lawmakers have threatened to undo key legacies of the Obama administration, such as the Affordable Care Act, the Iran nuclear deal, and immigration policies. Last week, after years of attempts, Republicans passed a measure repealing Obamacare and sent it to the president's desk, where it faced a veto.
Specifically regarding Mr. Trump’s campaign, the president told NBC “talk to me if he wins," saying that only then would he be willing to contemplate shouldering any responsibility for such an outcome.
“I am pretty confident that the overwhelming majority of Americans are looking for the kind of politics that does feed our hopes and not our fears, that does work together and doesn’t try to divide us,” he added.