Aamer Madhani, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON -- When President Obama heads to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to deliver the State of the Union address, expect him to endorse gradually raising the minimum wage, to offer a gentle plea to Republicans for cooperation on an immigration deal, and perhaps to touch on executive action he can take to bolster clean energy in the USA.
Obama and his chief speechwriter, Cody Keenan, are still deep in the drafting process of his speech that will inevitably have the familiarity of some of his past addresses, where he focused heavily on his vision for bolstering the economy while offering Congress a laundry list of legislative requests.
But the president and aides have also signaled in conversations with Democratic lawmakers and other allies their hopes to use the speech to offer a mix of big bets and pragmatic outreach to Republicans as he sets to chart his priorities for his final three years in office.
Perhaps highest on Obama's priority list is brokering a long-elusive deal to overhaul the nation's immigration laws. After spending much of 2013 pushing House Republicans without success to embrace legislation that passed in the Senate, Obama has softened his approach.
In recent weeks, Obama has expressed optimism that he can forge a deal with House Republicans that can lead to a path to citizenship for the nation's estimated 11 million undocumented workers.
His outlook is largely colored by political pressure that is felt by Republicans, who he is confident want to improve their standing with Hispanic voters as they look ahead to mid-term Congressional elections and the 2016 presidential race.
Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., said that the White House has made clear to Democrats that giving Republicans some space on immigration to develop their own plans, as House Speaker John Boehner has vowed to do, would be helpful to the administration strategy.
But Grijalva also said that he remained concerned that Obama - who has expressed openness to the House taking a piecemeal approach to addressing immigration - be careful not to fall into a trap that could result in something less than truly comprehensive reform.
"I think the president - despite the reality of the House - needs to continue to promote that this has to be done comprehensively," Grijalva said. "If a piecemeal approach is something he's asking (Democrats) to be open to, he has to be pretty strong about saying that piecemeal (legislation) that only deals with enforcement issues or that only makes Republican caucus in the House happy is not immigration reform."
Obama will also use the address to talk about a push to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 by the end of his time in office, according to a senior administration official who requested anonymity in order to discuss the details in advance.
The president made a call last year to raise the minimum wage - currently at $7.25 per hour-to $9 per hour and more recently endorsed a push by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., to gradually increase the rate to $10.10 per hour - a level that would make certain all full-time workers were earning income above the federal poverty level.
In recent weeks, aides - including chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers Jason Furman - have predicted that the Harkin-Miller proposal would help not only 1.6 million Americans paid minimum wage but would also have a ripple effect on another roughly 17 million low-wage workers.
Some Republicans and conservative economists argue that raising the rate would lead to a spike in prices and even lead to employers trimming their workforce. While the Harkin-Miller legislation faces a steep climb, the push is being embraced in and outside Washington.
Last year, five states and Washington, D.C., approved increases in their minimum-wage laws (California, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island), and this year several more states are weighing raising the state minimum wage.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, who is pushing an effort in the Illinois general assembly to raise the state's minimum wage to $10 per hour, said Obama spotlighting the issue "could help a great deal" in the state effort.
The push could also prove to be good politics for Democrats such as Quinn, who is up for re-election in November and criticized the four Republicans in Illinois vying to unseat him in Springfield for not backing a raise in the minimum wage.
"The polls show Democrats, independents, Republicans - each of those voting groups, if you want to call them that - favor raising the minimum wage," Quinn said. "It's an article of faith in America that if you work hard, work 40 hours a week, you shouldn't live in poverty."
Obama repeated on Thursday in a speech for the U.S. Conference of Mayors that he was ready to wield the power of executive action to get around a deadlocked Congress. To that end, the president recruited former Clinton administration chief of staff John Podesta to join his team at the start of 2014 to help him navigate spots where he may turn to executive action.
One area in his agenda where he could be ready to take action on his own is addressing climate change and bolstering clean-energy efforts. With last year's address, he challenged Congress to come up with a bipartisan "market-based" plan to curb pollution or that he would take executive action to address the issue.
He followed up his threat with a June speech at Georgetown University in which he called on the State Department not to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline unless it could be determined that it would not lead to a net increase in greenhouse emissions. He also directed the Environmental Protection Agency to move forward with regulations to limit carbon emissions from existing coal and gas-fired utilities by no later than this June.
Ahead of next week's speech, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell also received more than 200 recommendations from a panel of outside experts on action that the president can take without Congress on energy efficiency, renewable markets, renewable-energy financing, alternative-fueled vehicles, new business models and natural-gas rule-making.
The panel, which was led by former Colorado governor Bill Ritter, a Democrat, was tasked to come up with the recommendations by Obama himself.
Ritter, who also met with Podesta earlier this week to discuss the report, said he didn't know if Obama would take up any of the recommendations in his State of the Union address.
"I wouldn't be surprised at all if he goes back to the well and re-emphasizes the importance with us dealing with this as a country, and that he's going to undertake actions like he did last June," Ritter said.