Writing the State of the Union: A behind-the-scenes look [Video]

It was only last week that a full first draft of President Obama’s State of the Union speech came together. And it was still being polished Tuesday, just hours before it is delivered from the rostrum in the House chamber.

The White House has offered a behind-the-scenes look at putting together the president’s annual address to Congress, one that portrays Obama as a very hands-on manager of the speechwriting process.

“This is simply not an editing exercise. He’s involved from conception through the development process. And then he writes a lot of the speech himself,” senior White House advisor David Plouffe says in a newly released White House video.

Jon Favreau, the president’s lead speechwriter, explains that Obama got a first look at the initial draft Jan. 16, and “he made a lot of edits.”

Obama gathered with his team the following day to review his recommended changes.


“The bad news is, it’s not there yet,” Obama is seen telling his staff in the Oval Office.

“Their job is to kind of weave it together according to the president’s direction. Then he takes it and makes it his,” said Cecilia Munoz, director of the Domestic Policy Council.

The administration has thus far managed to keep many details of the speech from leaking out. Thematically, the president has said it will be a “bookend” to his December speech in Kansas that included a major focus on income inequality.

On Tuesday morning, Plouffe did a round of morning show interviews in which he made it clear that tax reform would be one of the centerpieces of the speech.

But Obama will probably include a fair amount of specific policy offerings Tuesday night, some of what will be in his budget proposal due out next month.

“You develop a lot of policies that will be in the budget and proposed. And in a sense, the ones that make the State of the Union are a little bit like the players that make the All-Star team,” Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, says in the White House video.

“He really wanted us to focus on those types of economic policies that could have a tangible effect over these next few years in getting more Americans back into the top of high-paying, durable jobs that last,” he said.

The video is a product of the White House new media team, and one of many initiatives surrounding the speech that they say will make it the “most interactive” State of the Union ever.

Next week, the president will again participate in a Q & A session run by YouTube, with questions submitted from users across the country.

On Tuesday, Obama was in the public eye only briefly, for a photo op as he walked from the Oval Office to the White House residence.

Asked if the speech was wrapped up, the president said that there “may be a few touch-ups.”