HUFFPOST HILL - The State Of Our Union Is Schlonged

Tonight is President Obama’s final State of the Union; next year, after he declares himself socialist dictator for life, he’ll just send House Speaker Sean Penn a brief note. Iran says it will safely return ten American sailors whose boats drifted into their waters -- it’s unclear if it’s too late to get the sailors symbolically empty State of the Union seats. And on that note, if any member of Congress seated in front of a symbolically empty seat pretends to sensually sculpt clay with a ghost, we’ll endorse them, sight unseen. Looking at you, Steny Hoyer. This is HUFFPOST HILL for Tuesday, January 12th, 2016:

WHAT TO WATCH FOR TONIGHT: SELF-IMMOLATION - Sam Stein: "Barack Obama's gifts as an orator were central to his rise as a politician. But as he prepares for the final State of the Union address of his presidency -- one of his last big speeches as a public servant -- both he and his advisers have come to believe that the speech's format doesn't play to his rhetorical strengths. Over the course of seven years, Obama's team reached the conclusion that the State of the Union is old and stale, a speech that often fails to increase the president's popularity or produce policy wins. That Obama will deliver what his administration is advertising as an unconventional address on Tuesday is no surprise to confidants. They think the traditional approach doesn't work. 'The bully pulpit is Balkanized now,' said David Axelrod, Obama's longtime adviser. 'You do get a large audience for the State of the Union, and that's worth something. But in a country that is very polarized, speaking before an institution that is very polarized, there are limits to what you can achieve and that's been an emerging realization since the beginning.' …. Obama began to find the process grating. Following his 2012 address, he scanned his iPad to read the commentary on the speech. And as Axelrod wrote in his book, Believer, the indifferent reviews confounded him. 'They just want me to light myself on fire,' Obama exclaimed." [HuffPost]

RUT ROH: Lolita C. Baldor: "Iran was holding 10 U.S. Navy sailors and their two small Navy boats after the boats had mechanical problems and drifted into Iranian waters, but American officials have received assurances from Tehran that they will be returned safely and promptly. Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told The Associated Press that the riverine boats were moving between Kuwait and Bahrain when the U.S. lost contact with them." HuffPost]

CONGRESSIONAL DEMS, WHITE HOUSE AT LOGGERHEADS OVER DEPORTATIONS Elise Foley: "A number of Democrats on the Hill are outraged with the administration's recent deportation raids on women and children, and drew the White House's attention enough for a visit from one his advisers the day of the big speech...Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters in an afternoon press conference Tuesday that he had spoken to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson at 12:30 p.m., and 'he understands the concern we have and I think we're moving forward to a resolution of this.'... Earlier Tuesday, when White House Counsel Neil Eggleston came to the Capitol to talk to House Democrats, he made no mention of a change in policy, according to members who attended...More than three-quarters of the House Democratic caucus -- 146 of the 188 total -- signed onto a letter Tuesday condemning recent efforts to expel certain mothers and children. Legislators, led Democratic Reps. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois and Zoe Lofgren and Lucille Roybal-Allard of California, argued in the letter that the raids "should be immediately suspended until we can ensure no mother or child will be sent back to a country where they would face persecution, torture or death.'" [HuffPost]

STATE OF THE UNION DRINKING GAME, LAME DUCK-ISH EDITION - The "Finish the Bottle" prompts, via Jason Linkins: "Obama says, 'Oh, man, who am I kidding, y'all are about to elect a president who openly declares his fondness for Vladimir Putin, aren't you? Aren't you? See, I knew it.' ... Obama admits that he's 'just way, way into SoulCycle right now.' ... 'I didn't become president to see the middle class lose ground, and I surely didn't become president to see every new restaurant trot out another tired 'small plates' menu.' ... Oregon's wildlife refuges have gotten a lot more edgy and exciting ... 'Actually ... how about O'Malley?'" [HuffPost]

DELANEY DOWNER - Local public officials have called on the federal government to intervene in Flint's water crisis, but it turns out the federal government was already deeply involved. It took the efforts of private citizens to expose the threat to public health, as it had in Washington, D.C., when that city suffered a major water lead crisis a decade ago. "This experience has really shattered my trust in government," said Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a Flint pediatrician whose research showed a spike in lead poisoning among children after the city switched its water supply in 2014. "It's not that I was naive to start with, but you'd expect that utilities, states, federal agencies would take their jobs seriously and try to protect people rather than deliberately mislead, lie and make up excuses not to protect public health." [HuffPost]

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STEVE KING REMEMBERS THE INNOCENT UNBORN WITH CLINT EASTWOOD-STYLE THEATRICS - Actually, it's amazing that we have yet to reach the phase where opposition parties outright boycott the State of the Union. Igor Bobic: "Reserving an empty seat in lieu of inviting an actual guest seems all the rage for this year's State of the Union address, which President Barack Obama will deliver before Congress Tuesday evening. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) announced Tuesday he was dedicating a seat in the House gallery to 'the lives of more than 55 million aborted babies' in protest against what he called the 'most pro-abortion president ever.' 'President Obama's first official act, immediately upon his inauguration was to sign an executive order to accelerate abortions world-wide,' King said in a statement, referring to Obama reversing a policy that banned the U.S. from funding international family-planning providers that provided abortions or abortion counseling. 'The first tears we have seen him shed in seven years were for the victims of the tragic Sandy Hook School shooting. As far as we know, Obama has never shed a single tear for even one of the more than 9 million babies aborted under his watch.'" [HuffPost]

Empty seat battle: "Blasting President Barack Obama's 'feckless' foreign policy, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) says the president should leave an empty seat at his State of the Union address for '250,000 Syrians that have been slaughtered ... thanks to his failed policy.' The jab, made on Tuesday's episode of 'Morning Joe,' was apparently the senator's way of demanding that Obama discuss terrorism, the Middle East and worldwide confidence in America's armies, according to an NBC Universal press release. Obama has come under criticism from the GOP for his refusal to take military action against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime or to arm part of Assad's opposition, the Free Syrian Army. Critics say this has emboldened our enemies in the Middle East." [HuffPost]

SANDERS GOING STRONG IN LATEST POLLS Janie Velencia: "New polls show that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is ahead of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire and gaining on her in Iowa, with early voting in both states less than a month away. Sanders now stands 14 percentage points ahead of Clinton in New Hampshire, according to a Monmouth University poll of likely Democratic primary voters released Tuesday. Sanders' position has improved across all demographics since Monmouth last surveyed voters about two months ago, and he even has overtaken Clinton's lead among women. Fifty-two percent of those polled said they are firm in their decision at this point in the race -- but it's important to keep in mind that polls are still volatile. A Fox News poll conducted just days before the Monmouth poll shows Sanders with a 13-point lead over Clinton ahead of the primary but two others show him with a considerably smaller lead: An ARG poll finds him just 3 points ahead of the former secretary of state, while a NBC/WSJ/Marist poll has him leading her by 4 points." [HuffPost]

HILLARY MAD - Samantha Lachman: "Hillary Clinton used to avoid uttering the name of her main rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt). But that phase of the race has definitively ended, with Clinton and her team staging a multi-pronged attack on Sanders in the first weeks of the new year. Clinton herself has laid into Sanders in the last two weeks, unspooling a new tactic of directly attacking her competitor. Her campaign staff began criticizing Sanders in earnest last autumn, but until recently, the candidate herself had mostly focused on introducing her own policies and criticizing those of the Republican contenders." [HuffPost]

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR - Here's a rude toddler.

FINALLY, SOMEONE TARGETING THE REAL CULPRITS - A anti-campus diversity office / anti-voter fraud ticket could go depressingly far in this country.Tyler Kingkade: "Republican lawmakers in Tennessee want to launch an investigation into the diversity office at the University of Tennessee and other public colleges in the state. A group of 10 GOP state senators and representatives, led by state Rep. Eddie Smith, sent a letter Monday to Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, both Republicans, requesting they establish a special joint committee to look into diversity efforts at public colleges and universities in the state. A spokeswoman for Harwell said the speaker will back the creation of a joint House-Senate committee to investigate how the universities promote diversity. Ramsey has not yet decided if he will support it." [HuffPost]


- Every word in "The Wizard of Oz," alphabatized.

- A very strange song, courtesy of Bad Lip Reading and "Star Wars."

- The vocals from "Under Pressure" sound like the most talented college a cappella group in history


@elisefoley: Nothing horrifies me more than the typo “wait a sex” instead of “wait a sec.”

@katlamcglynn: Why is there no "red flag" emoji

@morninggloria: Truly baffling that bringing local Iowa favorite Lena Dunham on the campaign trail hasn't boosted Hillary Clinton in polls.

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