Expectations will be low when Barack Obama steps before a joint session of Congress to deliver his sixth State of the Union address (6 p.m. PST).
Given that it's an election year, that Capitol is still mired in partisan gridlock, and the president finds himself back-peddling on a number of fronts, including over the bungled roll-out of Obamacare and the NSA's e-snooping, few are expecting to hear an address as ambitious as last year's.
What Obama also is facing is the bitter disappointment in his failure to achieve one of his signature agenda items for 2013 -#8212; strengthening gun-control laws.
Last year, the president, in reference to the victims and families of victims of gun violence including those in the Newtown, Conn. tragedy, appealed to House Republicans to allow his gun violence initiatives -#8212; calling for universal background checks, a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines and other changes -#8212; to be put up for a floor vote.
But his appeal that victims "deserve a vote" fell on deaf ears, and no substantive changes to gun laws occurred at the federal level.
This year, however, the president is presented with a golden opportunity to make progress on at least one key issue -#8212; immigration. He can't miss this opportunity for reform. But it shouldn't come at all costs.
Last year, the Senate succeeded in passing an immigration package that included, among other things, increased spending on border security, an enhanced E-verify system and a wider path for high-skilled workers from foreign countries. It also included a 13-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Republicans opposed the plan, but there appears to be growing consensus in Washington that it's time to make a deal.
Later this week, Republicans are expected to roll out their own plan on immigration reform "principles," and it is likely to include some allowance for legalizing at least some of the 11 million undocumented immigrants now in the nation.
This is certainly a hopeful sign, but the president should use his message tonight to set the stage for these negotiations-#8212; to make clear where he's unwilling to compromise.