State of the Union: 8 Things Obama Won't Say, But Might Want To

PHOTO: In this Jan. 17, 2014, photo, President Barack Obama Talks about National Security Agency surveillance at the Justice Department in Washington.

Sometimes there are things you want to say but just can't.

When President Obama delivers his fifth State of the Union address tonight, there are a number of hot-button headlines you almost certainly won't hear. The list of what goes unsaid in the speech, even though Obama might have wanted to say it, can be as revealing as the presidential progress report itself.

As we wait to see how it shakes out, here's our look at eight things Obama likely won't say, and what they could tell us about his presidency in 2014:

1. Forget about big hope, big change.

"The president of the United States cannot remake our society, and that's definitely a good thing." Those are not words of solace from a Tea Party Republican. They belong to President Obama, who seemed to downplay expectations of his influence in an interview this month with the New Yorker's David Remnick.

But don't expect Obama to make a similar declaration from the dais tonight. White House aides say the president doesn't discount his ability to remake the country over the next three years, even if the odds of another sweeping legislative achievement on the order of health care probably isn't in the cards.

Tonight, Obama will aim to play up the art of the possible, signaling that "Hope and Change" is still alive, aides say, if only through increased reliance on smaller-impact executive actions.

"We're talking about reinvigorating that idea that the president can use the unique power of the office to make things happen," said a West Wing adviser helping Obama draft the speech.

2. Hike taxes on the rich.

Obama won re-election in 2012 in part by casting himself as a "warrior for the middle class" determined to tackle income inequality. Recommitting to that theme will be a big part of his address and agenda for the year ahead, his aides say.

But even though Obama campaigned on making the wealthy "pay their fair share" and using the money to fund "investments" in the middle class, don't expect him to call for a hike in tax rates tonight.

"We already got that," said one aide, referring to the 2011 budget deal that allowed Bush-era tax cuts on higher-income earners to expire. "But there are things we should do for revenue through closing loopholes."

Wary of criticism that he's engaged in class warfare, look for the president to emphasize "economic opportunity" instead of the more politically charged buzz words "income inequality."

"What the president has talked about throughout his entire career ... is the problem of shrinking opportunity for the middle class," senior Obama adviser Dan Pfieffer told CNN on Sunday. "So, what he's going to talk about in this speech is how we deal with the problem, restore opportunity for all Americans."

3. 'Yes We Did!' (or, Si Hicimos!) on immigration reform.

By Obama's own account, the failure to enact immigration reform was the biggest disappointment of 2013. "It is obviously frustrating," he told reporters at an end-of-year press conference.

Exactly one year ago today, Obama trumpeted a "year of action" on immigration during his first post-inaugural trip outside the Beltway. But then, congressional momentum stalled. No White House bill was put forward. The political impasse continues into 2014.

There are signs the gridlock could ease, however, as House Republican leaders plan to roll out an immigration framework early this year. Obama is expected to encourage bipartisan progress on reform measures during his address tonight.

"There is some reason to be cautiously optimistic about immigration reform eventually clearing both Houses and getting to the president's desk, not because we've come up with better ways to urge Congress to take action or urge the House to take action," said White House press secretary Jay Carney, "but because the economic benefits are so apparent."

4. Thank you, Edward Snowden.

Debate over National Security Agency surveillance and a plan to overhaul some intelligence gathering programs have become defining issues of President Obama's early second term. The White House says the president always intended to conduct a review of the programs. But those in his inner circle say the leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden gave him a big nudge.

"The president told us on the review group that he intended to do this review anyway, and that it wasn't Snowden that had triggered it," said Obama intelligence review panelist Richard Clarke. "I don't know if I believe that fully or not. It may have been his intention to do a review, but I'm quite sure the Snowden revelations made it more timely."

Many of the changes Obama recently proposed will require congressional help – something that he could explicitly raise in tonight's address. But don't expect the president to also show Snowden some gratitude. Obama says he strongly disapproves of Snowden's tactics, even if his leaks appear to have single-handedly spurred Obama to do what he apparently always wanted.

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