Obama tests his sway against a GOP-run Congress

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WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama this week will test whether he still has the sway to keep Washington focused on his own priorities, even as a new Republican-run Congress descends on the Capitol eager to take him on.

Fresh off a two-week vacation, Obama immediately began ramping up for his State of the Union address - his best chance to set the agenda for 2015 on his own terms. Obama will roll out new executive steps and proposals for Congress this week on home ownership, higher education and manufacturing jobs - a similar menu to the one Obama has offered in years past.

Republicans have an entirely different blueprint for the start of the year. In full control of Congress for the first time of Obama's presidency, they planned an all-out offensive against his policies on immigration, foreign policy and the environment.

In a sign of their divergent paths, just as lawmakers arrive in Washington to start the new Congress this week, Obama was heading out of town. He planned to spend most of the week in Michigan, Arizona and Tennessee showcasing how his own economic policies are fueling the economic recovery.

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Obama tests his sway against a GOP-run Congress
President Barack Obama smiles broadly while golfing with friends Bobby Titcomb, left, and Mike Ramos on Monday, Dec. 29, 2014, on the 18th hole of the Mid Pacific Country Club in Kailua, Hawaii during the Obama family vacation. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
People hold signs asking US President Barack Obama for his autograph near his vacation residence in Kailua on December 30, 2014 as his motorcade returns from nearby Marine Corps Base Hawaii where he went to the gym. AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama taps his ball into the 18th hole as he plays golf at the Mid-Pacific Country Club in Kailua on December 30, 2014 . AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama, left, and first lady Michelle Obama, with ponytail, are seen in silhouetted profiles as the motorcade carrying the first family leaves their rental home Friday, Dec. 26, 2014, in Kailua, Hawaii en route to a beach during the Obama family vacation. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
People watch as the motorcade carrying President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama leaves their rental home Saturday, Dec. 27, 2014, in Kailua, Hawaii en route to dinner at Alan Wong's Restaurant in Honolulu during the Obama family vacation. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Secret Service agents keep watch from the roof by Alan Wong's Restaurant where President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are having dinner, Saturday, Dec. 27, 2014, in Honolulu, Hawaii during the Obama family vacation. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
A man holding a child waves as the motorcade carrying President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama leaves their rental home Saturday, Dec. 27, 2014, in Kailua, Hawaii en route to dinner at Alan Wong's Restaurant in Honolulu during the Obama family vacation. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
A police Jet Ski approaches a kayaker as President Barack Obama and the first family visit a nearby beach Saturday, Dec. 27, 2014, at Bellows Air Force Station, Hawaii during the Obama family vacation. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
The traveling press watches as the motorcade carrying President Barack Obama and his family leaves their rental home Saturday, Dec. 27, 2014, in Kailua, Hawaii en route to a beach at Bellows Air Force Station during the Obama family vacation. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
President Barack Obama, with first lady Michelle Obama, points toward a child in the audience as he greets troops and their families on Christmas Day, Thursday, Dec. 25, 2014, at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii during the Obama family vacation. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
President Barack Obama, with first lady Michelle Obama, walk past a Christmas wreath and military portraits after speaking to troops and their families on Christmas Day, Thursday, Dec. 25, 2014, at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii during the Obama family vacation. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
President Barack Obama, with first lady Michelle Obama, greets troops and their families on Christmas Day, Thursday, Dec. 25, 2014, at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii during the Obama family vacation. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
The motorcade of US President Barack Obama makes its way to the beach at Bellows Air Force Station on December 27, 2014 . AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barak Obama (R) is seen walking the Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail on December 23, 2014 in Honolulu, Hawaii. The First Family is vacationing in Hawaii through the winter holidays. AFP PHOTO / KENT NISHIMURA (Photo credit should read Kent Nishimura/AFP/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama, center, in tan hat, walks onto the green on the 18th hole while golfing with friends Bobby Titcomb, Greg Orme, and Mike Ramos on Monday, Dec. 29, 2014, at Mid Pacific Country Club in Kailua, Hawaii during the Obama family vacation. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
The public watches as President Barack Obama, behind fence at far right, finishes his golf game with friends Bobby Titcomb, Greg Orme, and Mike Ramos on Monday, Dec. 29, 2014, on the 18th hole of the Mid Pacific Country Club in Kailua, Hawaii during the Obama family vacation. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
A man holds a sign wishing the first family "Happy Holidays" as the motorcade carrying President Barack Obama returns to his rental home, Monday, Dec. 29, 2014, in Kailua, Hawaii, after working out in the gym at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, during the Obama family vacation. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
President Barack Obama's motorcade leaves his rental home, Monday, Dec. 29, 2014, in Kailua, Hawaii, en route to the gym, during the Obama family vacation. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
US President Barack Obama reacts to a putt as he plays golf with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razzak at Marine Corps Base Hawaii on December 24, 2014. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama plays golf with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, right, Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2014, at Marine Corps Base Hawaii's Kaneohe Klipper Golf Course in Kaneohe, Hawaii during the Obama family vacation. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
President Barack Obama plays golf with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, right, Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2014, at Marine Corps Base Hawaii's Kaneohe Klipper Golf Course in Kaneohe, Hawaii during the Obama family vacation. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
President Barack Obama, left, smiles at Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak as they play golf, Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2014, at Marine Corps Base Hawaii's Kaneohe Klipper Golf Course in Kaneohe, Hawaii during the Obama family vacation. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Surrounded by Secret Service Agents, President Barack Obama tosses a golf ball between his hands after finishing the 18th hole of a game of golf with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2014, at Marine Corps Base Hawaii's Kaneohe Klipper Golf Course in Kaneohe, Hawaii during the Obama family vacation. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
US President Barack Obama talks to reporters as he plays golf with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razzak (back) at Marine Corps Base Hawaii on December 24, 2014. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama jokes with reporters as he plays golf with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razzak at Marine Corps Base Hawaii on December 24, 2014. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
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The State of the Union comes early this year, on Jan. 20, and it is Obama's first with Republicans in control of both House and Senate.

Obama's speechwriters have been crafting the speech for weeks, both in Washington and in Hawaii, where the president spent two weeks on the golf courses and beaches of Oahu with his family and a handful of friends. The White House has been also been reaching out to Democratic-aligned policy groups to solicit input on the speech.

In Detroit on Wednesday, Obama planned to tout the return of manufacturing jobs and his decision to bail out the auto industry. In Phoenix the next day, Obama was to showcase gains in the housing sector since the real estate crash and unveil new steps to help Americans buy a home, the White House said. And on Friday, Vice President Joe Biden will join Obama in Tennessee to discuss new ways to help more people attend college or get job-training.

As Obama closed out 2014, he was visibly energized by a string of high-profile presidential moves in the last six weeks of the year. Following brutal midterm losses for Democrats, Obama's actions on Cuba and immigration suggested he still retained some relevance, and Obama said he intended to carry that momentum into 2015.

Yet since the midterms, the key question has been whether Obama will lean in or away from compromise with Republicans in his final two years.

Of the issues the White House said Obama will emphasize in the coming weeks, none were among the handful of areas that both Democrats and Republicans have cited as ripe for compromise - like trade, tax reform and infrastructure.

Eric Schultz, Obama's spokesman, said the president this week will announce both executive steps he plans to take and proposals to work with Congress on legislation. Those proposals will focus on ways to help the middle class benefit from the economic recovery, he said.

"There are a number of issues we could make progress on, but the president is clear that he will not let this Congress undo important protections gained - particularly in areas of health care, Wall Street reform and the environment," Schultz said. Obama has threatened to use his veto pen as needed this year to block GOP attacks.

But Obama will be back from vacation barely 48 hours before the new, Republican-run Congress is seated Tuesday, bringing with it an onslaught of attacks the GOP has been bottling up for years. Without a Democratic majority in the Senate to stop them, Republicans planned to start chipping away at Obama's past actions on health care, immigration and the environment, to name a few.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said Republicans would still do business with Obama on issues like taxes and trade promotion despite their irritation at his unilateral action in other areas.

"Look, obviously we have not liked the executive actions that especially were taken" after the November midterms, Corker said on "Fox News Sunday." ''But we understand with humility, we've got a lot of serious issues that need to be addressed. The bigger issues absolutely require the president to be involved."

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Associated Press writer Nedra Pickler contributed to this report.

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