Retooling the Message

(President Obama shares a laugh with reporters before entering the Oval Office Wednesday afternoon/AP Photo)

(President Obama shares a laugh with reporters before entering the Oval Office Wednesday afternoon/AP Photo)

As Major Garrett has reported, job creation will be a central theme in tonight's State of the Union address.  And while the President is expected to mention health care reform, that legislative push seems to have fallen by the wayside.

Mr. Obama's much-anticipated speech comes a week after a stinging loss for democrats in Massachusetts, where Martha Coakley conceded to Republican Scott Brown in the special election to fill Ted Kennedy's Senate seat.  Since then, the White House has retooled its message, with a series of events and announcements that focus on creating jobs and fighting for the middle class. 


The new rhetoric is in stark contrast to the President's mantra which seemed to describe health care reform and the country's economic health as intertwining puzzle pieces. "If we want to create jobs and rebuild our economy, and get our fed budget under control," said Mr. Obama in March 2009, "then we must address the crushing cost of health care this year, in this Administration,"  Those words were repeated over the course of the year by the President and his advisers.


Just weeks ago a playful game of cat and mouse existed between reporters and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on whether the president's address would coincide with a final vote on health care legislation. Gibbs often found himself at a loss for words when reporters prodded him about whether a date had been set for State of the Union.  At the time, Mr. Obama and his advisers were trying to hash out differences in eleventh-hour, closed-door negotiations with democratic lawmakers. But while administration officials insisted that the meetings were fruitful, negotiators never revealed a final product. 


This morning Gibbs promised that tonight's message will be positive, acknowledging to the hosts of "Fox & Friends" that the American people are angry and frustrated. "What we need to do is work together as democrats and republicans to address their problems," Gibbs said, "instead of playing the back and forth of politics and political games each day."


But that may not be enough for republicans trying to take back the majority.  House leaders told reporters today that they welcome a return to fiscal discipline, but Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence said he's worried about being schemed.  "There are pledges for more programs that could add more burden to future generations of Americans," said the Indiana representative, "and House Republicans are saying with a legion of Americans 'enough is enough.'" 


Dana Perino, who served as former President George W. Bush's press secretary conceded that State of the Union addresses are traditionally over-hyped and over-blown, and cautioned against characterizing tonight's speech as the most important.  But she said President Obama's first address has a distinguishing quality.  "The difference with this State of the Union to me," Perino said, "is that I don't recall one where a president was having to give a State of the Union address the week after a major defeat politically."

 Watch Major tonight on 'Special Report w / Bret Baier' at 6 pm ET.