WASHINGTON -- President Obama and two top White House advisers held a conference call with state and local officials Friday evening, previewing the themes of his State of the Union address and asking for feedback and ideas.
Obama gave opening remarks for a few minutes. The rest of the discussion was handled by Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett and National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling, according to a state lawmaker who was on the call and requested anonymity because it was off the record.
The lawmaker said the call focused heavily on the speech themes of creating jobs and the economy. The topic of "insourcing" American jobs came up, and the president highlighted infrastructure -- investing in the nation's roads, bridges and high-speed trains. Sperling said the president would be highlighting support for small businesses in his speech. They also talked about the auto bailout and its success, pointing to the fact that General Motors Corp. was the top-selling automaker in the world for 2011.
Sources familiar with the planning for the Jan. 24 State of the Union have signaled that the speech will hammer home now-familiar points: that the country is facing increasing economic inequality and the government should take action to protect the middle class. The idea is not necessarily to break new ground, but to reaffirm the philosophy that ran all through the president's Dec. 6 speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, modeled after a historic address by President Theodore Roosevelt.
That point was reiterated in the invitation for the call.
"In preparation for the State of the Union address on January 24th, we want to discuss the framework presented in the President's remarks in Osawatomie, KS, and how to make the strongest case for rebuilding our economy based on fair play, a fair shot and a fair share," reads the invite. "The purpose of this call is to request feedback from state, local and tribal leaders on the overall themes of this speech and to gather specific stories from your community that highlight these themes."
More than a dozen state and local officials either made comments or asked questions, including one about investing in energy-efficiency initiatives.
The source noted that the White House officials repeatedly said they didn't want to give away all of the speech, keeping some details for the actual address. Obama also told them he was still writing the speech, and didn't know everything that would be in it.
There was, added the state lawmaker, also widespread agreement amongst the call's participants that Obama should continue singing, after his rendition of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" was such a hit.
A White House spokesperson wouldn't confirm the details of the call, but said it was part of the president's outreach around his State of the Union address.