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Obama revamps the State of the Union

When President Obama delivers his State of the Union address on Tuesday evening before a joint session of Congress, the lawmakers seated before him should be familiar with most of his speech. The 30 million-or-so viewers expected to tune into the prime time address should also know what the president's going to say, if they've been following headlines.

That's because Mr. Obama has spent the past two weeks rolling out his 2015 agenda piece-by-piece, with no fewer than half a dozen events all over the country. It may have taken some of the anticipation out of Tuesday night's main event, but Mr. Obama is making clear that this year, he's speaking to the American people as much as Congress.

"Why wait for the State of the Union?" Mr. Obama asked a receptive audience at Central High School in Phoenix, Arizona on Jan. 8, when he rolled out a plan for making housing more affordable. "It's sort of like you've got presents under the tree, you kind of start shaking them a little bit. I want to kind of give you a little sense of what I want to talk about."

By spending the better part of this month previewing his State of the Union address, Mr. Obama ensured that his policy proposals each earned their own headlines -- and, of course, a larger national audience. That could prove more critical than ever as the number of Americans watching the State of the Union address dwindles.

Furthermore, appealing to the public over Congress may be imperative if the White House wants to get anything done this year, now that the Republican Party has taken over both chambers of the legislative branch.

The State of the Union address is traditionally a "conversation between the president and the Congress, but I think Obama's trying do something new here and broaden the conversation," Elaine Kamarck, a Brookings Institution senior fellow with longtime Washington experience, told CBS News.

If this tactic of rolling out the year's agenda in advance of the State Union does give the president some traction, it could be a "turning point" for the speech, Kamarck said, prompting future presidents to approach the annual event the same way.

W.H. adviser previews Obama's State of the Union message 05:21

On CBS News' "Face the Nation" on Sunday, White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer acknowledged that the new Republican Congress won't be quick to embrace Mr. Obama's policy proposals. He suggested, however, that the American public should decide whether they agree with the president's prescription for economic growth or the GOP's.

"Are they going to agree on everything? Absolutely not," Pfeiffer told "Face the Nation" anchor Bob Schieffer. "I think we should have a debate in this country between middle class economics and trickle-down economics and see if we can come to an agreement on the things we do agree on."

If the president's agenda resonates with the public, members of Congress could feel pressure from voters to work with him on some issues. That could be especially true in 51 congressional districts, Kamarck noted, where Republicans won in 2014 even though Mr. Obama won those districts (or nearly won them) in 2012.

"There's possibilities in this new Congress for some new coalitions," she said. "A lot of that depends on the popularity of these proposals."

It may be no surprise, then, that Mr. Obama went to Arizona on Jan. 8 to announce his plans for expanding homeownership, or that he traveled to Tennessee a day later to roll out his plan for subsidizing community college tuition.

On January 12, he unveiled new proposals to protect consumers online, while a day later he spoke about his plans for improving corporate cybersecurity. On Jan. 14, he went to Iowa to pitch his plan to expand broadband access, and a day later in Maryland, he spoke about supporting federal paid sick leave policies.

During his actual State of the Union address, all of those proposals will be mentioned to tell a "story," Pfeiffer said, about the progress the nation has made in recent years and where it is going next.

"He's going to lay out a plan in three parts about how we help the middle class," Pfeiffer said. "How we make paychecks go farther right now, how we create good-paying right now, and how do we give people the skills they need to get those high-paying jobs, things like free community college, additional childcare."

His pitch to the public won't end there, though. On Wednesday, Mr. Obama takes his agenda on the road with a stop at Boise State University in Boise, Idaho. The next day he will talk about his proposals at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas. To keep his message as accessible as possible, Mr. Obama is also sitting down for interviews later this week with a trio of YouTube stars, @BethanyMota, @HankGreen and @GloZell.

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