WASHINGTON — Senior Republican lawmakers want President Barack Obama to strike a more hawkish tone on global matters and a more conciliatory tone on domestic ones in his State of the Union speech Tuesday evening.
Many Republican lawmakers and analysts want Obama to use the foreign policy and national defense portion of his annual address to Congress to strike a more muscular tone.
Where Obama sees ongoing talks with Iran and essentially the end of the Afghanistan war as accomplishments, GOP lawmakers see holes in his approach and track record. Republicans want, but don't expect, a new commander-in-chief in Obama on Tuesday evening.
"Well, first of all, I would recognize the threat," Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman (SASC) John McCain, R-Ariz., said on Tuesday. "The president keeps talking about the end of war in his last — I believe it was his last State of the Union speech — we're ending the war, [Osama] bin Laden is dead and we've eliminated core al-Qaida. I mean that — that's all ridiculous.
A year later, McCain says the Islamic State "is on the march." For the latest national security news from Capitol Hill, go to CongressWatch"ISIS has been expanding and winning while we've been using American air power," McCain said.
The SASC chairman, who lost to Obama in the 2008 presidential election, wants the president Obama to articulate a strategy. McCain long has said the president lacks an actual plan to defeat the violent Sunni group.
McCain also wants Obama to reverse course by explaining the importance of putting US combat troops in Iraq and Syria to fight the Islamic State.
"Second of all, you've got to treat Syria and Iraq the same, because it's the same enemy," McCain told MSNBC. "Third of all, you're going to have to have more American boots on the ground in the form of forward air controllers, special operations advisers and trainers. You're going to have to have that."
He also wants to hear the president lay out a plan to train and equip a specific group, the Free Syrian Army.
"They have already abandoned the Free Syrian Army to a fate that is just absolutely terrible," McCain said, referring to Obama administration officials.
Senate Majority Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Tuesday morning said "tonight is a big moment for the president — and for our country."
"The tone he strikes, and the issues he highlights, it will tell us a lot about what to expect in his presidency's final act," McConnell said. "There's a lot riding on it. We'll be listening closely.
The GOP leader said if Obama takes to the House chamber to say he is "willing to work with us, there's much we can get accomplished for the American people."
"We've already identified several areas of potential cooperation," McConnell said. "What I hope for tonight is that he presents some positive, bipartisan ideas of his own that can pass the Congress Americans just voted for."
One is how to convince Iran to give up its nuclear arms.
"Give us new ideas to prevent Iran from becoming a country with nuclear weapons," McConnell said.
Another issue many Republicans want Obama to target in his big speech is sequestration.
Richard Fontaine, a former foreign policy adviser to McCain, said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., says "the world has changed since President Obama gave his last State of the Union Address," citing Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the Islamic State's advance.
The now-president of the Center for a New American Security channeled his former Hill boss, saying: "President Obama could use this year's address to articulate the case for a new American internationalism, one that wins the support of Republicans and Democrats alike.
"Many in the new congressional majority would support moving forward with reversing sequestration and enhancing America's military power; passing trade promotion authority and then the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement," Fontaine said.
Obama also should embrace "rescinding the calendar-based withdrawal of American forces in Afghanistan in favor of one based on conditions; lifting the self-imposed restriction on American combat forces in Iraq," Fontaine said.
He also wants the State of the Union speech to include Obama endorsing "meaningfully aiding the moderate Syrian rebels and the government of Ukraine; and working more closely with security and economic partners across Asia," Fontaine said in a statement.
Moderate Democrats and most Republicans want Obama to lay out a plan for something retired Adm. Michael Mullen, a former Joint Chiefs chairman, called America's top national security issue: the massive federal deficit.
In Mullen's eyes, the size of the debt directly affects impacts the government's ability to pay for the military.
Moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, ranking member of the Armed Services Airland subcommittee, said Tuesday he wants to hear "hearing a little about fixing the debt, not growing the debt any more."
"We would hope that we can start reducing this $18 trillion debt," Manchin said. "So we got to be careful [about] what we do and how we do it. And work in a bipartisan way to get something done and don't just posture ourselves for the '16 election."
Appearing with Manchin on MSNBC, Senate Appropriations Committee member Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., nodded his agreement.
But many Washington conservatives have little hope of finding anything in the speech to like.
"Barack Obama marches to his own drummer and he will give the speech worthy of the insular Obamaworld in which he resides," said Danielle Pletka, vice president of foreign and defense policy at the American Enterprise Institute.
Pletka said in a statement she expects the State of the Union will feature Obama describing ongoing talks with Iran, his pushback of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his olive branch to Cuba as successes.
"The question for Mr. Obama, of course, is are these real successes? And at what price have they been achieved?" Pletka said. "Only the next president, to whom Obama will bequeath a global disaster scene of almost epic proportions, will understand the impact of the unprecedented global retreat this administration has sustained over two terms."