Essential Politics: President's farewell speech sets up the election year

Essential Politics: President's farewell speech sets up the election year

I’m Christina Bellantoni, the Essential Politics host today. Let’s get started.

"Let me look at this thing one last time. I just want to take this in."

That was President Obama, caught by CSPAN cameras, turning around to savor the jam-packed House chamber as he left, seeming not a little wistful following his final State of the Union address.

With "America" the biggest word in everyone's word cloud and no major dust-ups to speak of, the reflection Wednesday morning is more about the person who will replace the nation's 44th president than about Obama's own year ahead.

And with the Iowa caucuses less than three weeks away, presidential politics weren’t far from the chamber.

The nearly hour-long speech was Obama’s effort to have a say in who follows him into the Oval Office, writes Mark Z. Barabak.

The next election could help cement accomplishments like his signature healthcare program, a nuclear deal with Iran and efforts to stem climate change, or fell them in a single blow, he writes.

Afforded the grandest stage in all of American politics, the fiercely competitive president seemed almost cocky as he effectively kicked off his 2016 campaign, plainly itching to enter the fray and address what has been a running commentary on his time in office.

The president promised to keep the speech short because he knew some lawmakers needed to get to Iowa. Nearly eight years to the day from his own historic victory in the Hawkeye State, Obama even quipped he could offer tips on Iowa.

Without mentioning Donald Trump by name, the president still went after the GOP presidential front-runner, suggesting anti-Muslim rhetoric "betrays who we are as a country."

Hillary Clinton issued a fundraising email just before Obama wrapped, warning her supporters, "If we don’t have the resources to win those key early states and then the nomination, the next State of the Union could be delivered by Donald Trump or Ted Cruz."

Even Nikki Haley suggested Trump is out of line in her response to the president's speech. "During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices," Haley said. "We must resist that temptation. No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country." Don't miss Cathleen Decker's analysis.

The president also weighed in on redistricting, calling for a bipartisan commission to handle redrawing congressional and legislative boundaries and pledging he would go on the road to agitate for change.

California redistricting expert Paul Mitchell told Javier Panzar after the speech that the idea could catch hold.

The White House telegraphed ahead of time there would be no 30-page fact sheet or detailed package of new policy proposals, and that held up during the evening.

If you missed it or want to relive every moment, check out our live blog. Or watch the speech.


As the Legislature approaches the first of several deadlines for bills left over from 2015, there’s a flurry of activity at the state Capitol, all being closely covered by our statehouse reporting team via our Essential Politics news feed.

Among the highlights: an effort to help train workers in the state’s medical marijuana industry, safety guidelines for charter buses, and a $50 monthly voucher for welfare-to-work families to buy diapers for kids age 2 and younger.

Meantime, a closely watched Capitol effort to force new transparency into the world of drug pricing died a quiet death on Tuesday, as a legislative committee simply refused to bring it to a vote.


For more than three decades, there has been a persistent belief among Californians the state’s lottery pays big dividends for public schools. Maybe it’s a product of the best political sales pitch ever, considering voters authorized the lottery in 1984.

But it simply isn’t true. As the mammoth Powerball jackpot leaves fingers crossed up and down the Golden State, Sacramento bureau chief John Myers offers a dose of reality about what it all boils down to for schools: no more than two cents of every dollar in annual spending.


Gov. Jerry Brown has been skeptical of asking voters to extend the life of temporary taxes that he asked them to impose back in 2012, but last week he voiced outright opposition to the leading effort for a tax extension in 2016. Brown said the initiative, backed by unions and healthcare groups, had a "fatal flaw" by diverting the money away from the state’s rainy-day fund.

So what are the tax plan’s backers doing? Rewriting their initiative, reports Melanie Mason.


-- The major story in Southern California breaking just before the speech was the return of the NFL. We’ve got so many stories I can’t post them all, so go check out our coverage of the St. Louis Rams moving to Los Angeles.

-- Which member of California’s delegation got the best seat for the address? Sarah Wire found out.

-- We also asked members to grade Obama's speech. Watch:

-- Doyle McManus writes a column about what he dubs a shorter version of Obama’s message: Lower your expectations.

-- The president did not break with tradition to name a female designated survivor, but did shake things up with two people sitting out of the speech just in case disaster struck. It’s a little confusing, but Colleen Shalby explains.


Miss yesterday’s newsletter? Here you go. Did someone forward you this? Sign up here to get Essential Politics in your inbox daily. And keep an eye on our politics page throughout the day for the latest and greatest. And are you following us on Twitter at @latimespolitics?

Please send thoughts, concerns and news tips to