President Barack Obama is expected to stress that he intends to take unilateral action on a host of issues.
WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday night will seek to shift the public's souring view of his leadership, a challenge the White House sees as critical to shaping the nation's policy direction over the next three years.
Mr. Obama will emphasize his intention to use unilateral presidential authority—bypassing Congress when necessary—to an extent not seen in his previous State of the Union speeches, White House officials said.
He also is expected to announce that some of the nation's largest employers, including Xerox Corp., AT&T Inc., Lockheed Martin Corp. and Procter & Gamble Co., have signed a White House pledge agreeing not to discriminate against the long-term unemployed when making hiring decisions, according to a draft of the policy and interviews with several people familiar with the matter.
Mr. Obama will stress that he intends to take unilateral action on a host of other issues: infrastructure development, job training, climate change and education. Administration officials hinted broadly at the assertive new direction Sunday.
"We need to show the American people that we can get something done," Dan Pfeiffer, a senior White House adviser, told CNN as part of a round of interviews previewing the speech.
The more aggressive, executive-led approach marks a recalibration by the White House after seeing how congressional Republicans responded in 2013 to the president's re-election, a senior administration official said. Several key White House initiatives stalled in Congress last year, including an immigration revamp, an increase in the minimum wage, gun-control legislation and economic proposals.
Mr. Obama faces one disadvantage Tuesday night: The number of Americans tuning in to the State of the Union address tends to decline in a president's second term, even though it still will be the largest audience Mr. Obama is likely to command all year. Mr. Obama also must find a way for his message to compete with widespread attention given to the botched rollout of his health-care law and to the approaching November midterm elections.
Polls show the president's lethargic record of accomplishments in 2013 raised doubts among Americans that he is capable of tackling the country's problems. An ABC News/Washington Post poll released this weekend showed Mr. Obama's approval rating at 46%, compared with 55% a year ago.
Still, it would be hard, if not impossible, for a president to entirely ignore Congress on Tuesday night while speaking in the Capitol before its members. And to accomplish the most substantive policy changes, Mr. Obama will need lawmakers' approval.
"He says, 'Oh well, it's hard to get Congress to do anything.' Well, yeah, welcome to the real world. It's hard to convince people to get legislation through. It takes consensus," said Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.). "But that's what he needs to be doing is building consensus and not taking his pen and creating law."
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said in an interview that Mr. Obama's speech wouldn't present "a grandiose agenda. It's going to be a very practical agenda aimed at middle-class people."
In preparing for his address, White House advisers have wrestled with how to speak to a Congress that has been hostile to his agenda, officials said. Mr. Obama's approach will be coupled with calls for Congress to act on a handful of his key priorities.
The main issues will be immigration reform and raising the minimum wage. But senior administration officials said Mr. Obama will point to a bipartisan budget agreement reached at the end of last year as a catalyst for compromises on other issues that have stalled over partisan differences, including a farm bill, an extension of unemployment insurance benefits, patent reform and manufacturing proposals.
Mr. Obama in 2014 plans to pursue a business agenda entailing the permanent elimination of capital-gains tax for certain small-business investments and renewal of various business tax incentives that expired, including a research credit, aides said, although it was unclear if he will mention specifics in his speech.
The White House has considered several proposals on infrastructure, people familiar with the talks said. In previewing the speech to backers, administration officials cited a proposal Mr. Obama made last year: reworking the business-tax system and directing one-time revenue gains to roads, bridges and other public works. Some Republicans might prove amenable, because their business allies want both tax-code changes and infrastructure repairs. But many Republicans want a broader tax overhaul.
The president has championed policies designed to address what he sees as economic inequality, but is moving to shift the focus onto economic opportunity so as not to alienate certain voters in 2014's elections.
Although the unemployment rate has been falling from its October 2009 high of 10%, large numbers of Americans have dropped out of the labor market. Meantime, millions of Americans have been without work for more than six months, which many economists believe can make it harder for them to find a job.
In recent weeks, senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett has reached out to chief executives seeking commitments that they won't discriminate against the long-term unemployed in hiring practices. The White House has scheduled an event highlighting the initiative for Friday.
Bank of America Corp., Siemens AG, Dow Chemical Co. and Deloitte LLP are expected to join Xerox, AT&T, Lockheed Martin and P&G, among others, in signing the pledge, which states they "are committed to inclusive hiring practices and pledge to remove barriers" to the employment of long-term jobless, according to a draft of the agreement.
Officials with Bank of America and Dow Chemical confirmed they have agreed to the pledge; officials from the other companies couldn't be reached for comment Sunday.
The initiative is the latest White House effort to tackle public-policy issues without congressional action. Mr. Obama has used his executive power before, including on climate change, economic issues and immigration concerns, such as a 2012 move to allow many young undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. under certain conditions.
Flexing executive power isn't new to the presidency, particularly in a second term. President George W. Bush signed executive orders on issues such as the environment and federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research. President Bill Clinton did so on issues including gun control. Mr. Obama has been pressured by some supporters to assert more executive authority.
But the corporate hiring pledge also shows the limits of executive power. Under the nonbinding agreement, companies won't be obligated to hire the long-term unemployed, and it is unclear how the administration will monitor progress.
The impact of executive power also may fall short on other priorities, such as immigration and education, than if the moves included legislation.
Mr. Obama will attempt to follow through by hitting the road Wednesday for a two-day trip to tout his new message at events in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Tennessee.
As he does, he will be dogged by criticism from Republicans. In an interview Sunday on Fox News, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said his party wouldn't endorse "more spending, more debt, more taxes and more regulation."
—Michael R. Crittenden, Peter Nicholas, Janet Hook and John D. McKinnon contributed to this article.