Terror threat taking back seat in State of the Union? – Fox News
Ahead of President Obama’s State of the Union address, the American people have heard about tax hikes, community college, diplomacy with Cuba, and mortgage insurance.
What they haven’t heard much of is how the administration is adapting to a changing terror threat — a sprouting hydra rearing its many heads across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and even cyberspace.
If past State of the Union addresses are any model, Obama won’t spend more than a quarter of Tuesday night’s speech on foreign affairs. But increasingly, security threats are overshadowing the domestic agenda Obama aims to pursue during his final two years in office, upping pressure on the president to explain how he’ll confront them.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., chairman of the Senate homeland security committee, said he’s concerned about the level of attention Obama is giving the issue – and particularly the strategy for confronting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
“The problem is, we don’t exactly know what President Obama views, you know, defeat of ISIS is. There’s no strategy,” Johnson told Fox News, claiming ISIS may be “contained” but certainly is not close to being defeated.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told FoxNews.com he hopes Obama will “seriously address” the threat of Islamic terrorism “and stop talking about all the troops he’s withdrawn.”
On ISIS, King charged that Obama “has said very little since the summer” on his strategy. With the group reportedly gaining territory in Syria, King urged Obama to send the message that “nothing is off the table” — including ground troops.
The terror scourge surfaced again on the global stage overnight, with a video of militants threatening to behead Japanese hostages unless a $200 million ransom is paid. If truly from ISIS, the video would mark the first time their operatives have publicly demanded ransom for captives.
Meanwhile, a new crisis was flaring in Yemen where rebel fighters reportedly shelled the Yemeni president’s residence and entered the presidential palace – endangering a key U.S. ally in the fight against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. That group recently claimed responsibility for the terror attacks in Paris which killed 17.
Those attacks, more than any other act of ideological violence in recent years, have sharpened international efforts to counter terror cells, particularly in Europe.
Johnson said, “We’ve got to defeat Islamic terror wherever it shows up. And again, it’s showing up in more places.”
Asked Tuesday morning about the president’s treatment of Islamic extremism in the State of the Union address, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the American people “will hear from the president … a continued explanation of the strategy that we’ve been pursuing to keep the country safe.”
He told Fox News there’s “no question that one of the chief threats that we face, if not the chief threat that we face right now, is from extremists across the globe who, in the name of Islam, try to carry out acts of violence against America and our interests and our allies around the globe.”
At the same time, Earnest touted the country’s economic gains and said the address will be an opportunity to “lay out [Obama’s] ideas and his vision for how he can move the country forward.”
“Because of the president’s policies, we actually staved off a second Great Depression,” he said.
To that end, Obama is planning to pitch billions in middle-class tax credits – paid for with hikes on investment and inheritance taxes for top earners – as well as his plan for free community college and other domestic initiatives.
The president’s focus on the economy is no accident. Not only has “jobs, jobs, jobs” been the rallying cry of both parties for years – particularly after the 2008 financial collapse and recession – but Obama has enjoyed an uptick in his approval ratings lately, buoyed by improving views of the economy.
Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh, former adviser to then-Sen. John Kerry, said Obama is focusing on the economy because that’s what the American people are focused on, “period, end of sentence.”
Further, given that economic gains are driving his poll numbers, she said Obama wants to keep that trend going – to better his negotiating position with the new, Republican-led Congress.
“That’s what this is about,” she said. “On the economic front, that’s first and foremost where people want to see everybody working together.”
More than six years after the financial crisis, she said, “You know what? He’s done a pretty good job.”
Still, Marsh said Obama is likely to address security issues in “broad strokes.” She noted security remains a top concern for voters.
A Fox News poll taken from Jan. 11-13 showed voters giving Obama low marks on his handling of Islamic extremists. Only 33 percent of voters approved of his handling of the Islamic State, compared with 56 percent who disapproved. The numbers were almost identical on his handling of foreign policy overall – and only slightly better on his handling of terrorism.
The poll of 1,018 registered voters had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.
In last year’s State of the Union address, Obama’s section on foreign affairs was used to tout the wind-down of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
“The United States is more secure,” the president declared. “When I took office, nearly 180,000 Americans were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, all our troops are out of Iraq.”
Obama is likely to cite the end of the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan in Tuesday’s address.
But Obama’s drive for military closure in Iraq was disrupted by the Islamic State’s rise over the past year. Today, there are more than 3,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and more on their way to the region. Whether Obama can keep the focus on domestic initiatives in his final two years remains to be seen.
Still, even GOP leaders stressed they want the president to focus on economic matters in his address – they would simply like to see different proposals.
“The American people aren’t demanding talking point proposals designed to excite the base but not designed to pass,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “What they’ve said they’re hungry for is substance and accomplishment. They want Washington to get back to work and focus on a serious jobs and reform agenda.”
FoxNews.com’s Judson Berger and Fox News’ Jennifer Griffin contributed to this report.