sotu 12 presidents
State of the Union: 69 years in 69 seconds
01:09 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

His speech marks an important first step in a yearlong process of handing over his legacy

There is no doubt that Barack Obama has an awful lot riding on Hillary Clinton capturing the White House

Washington CNN  — 

It’s time for President Barack Obama to start letting go.

While aides say the commander in chief will argue in his final State of the Union address Tuesday that America’s destiny depends on honoring progress made on his watch, he will be sketching a future in which he will play no major political role.

So his speech – likely his last opportunity to grab an hour of uninterrupted prime time – marks an important first step in a delicate and bittersweet yearlong process of handing over his legacy to the protective custody of his hoped-for successor, fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton.

For sure, Obama has no intention of striding off the political stage just yet – a factor that could complicate his relations with the Democratic front-runner in the coming months. He is making clear that with challenges including global warming, economic inequality and the still-open Guantanamo Bay prison, he will use every last ounce of authority and influence left to get things done.

READ: Obama to focus on future in his final State of the Union speech

“I want us to be able, when we walk out this door, to say, ‘We couldn’t think of anything else that we didn’t try to do … that we weren’t timid or got tired or somehow thinking about the next thing because there is no next thing,’ ” he said in a pre-State of the Union video released on Monday.

But for all the promises of an engaged 2016, there’s no getting around the fact that in just one year and eight days, Obama must cede the power to protect what he sees as his greatest achievements, including health care reform, staying out of Middle East quagmires and advancing social justice issues such as gay rights and economic prosperity.

There is no doubt that Obama has an awful lot riding on Clinton capturing the White House – although he has also met with her left-wing rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the White House said Monday.

A Democratic successor is imperative for Obama because Republicans have vowed to dismantle key aspects of the Obama legacy immediately if they win back the presidential mansion after eight years, including Obamacare, a nuclear deal with Iran, executive actions shielding immigrants and policies designed to slow or reverse climate change.

Obama looks to Clinton

Though the White House says Obama will not endorse a candidate in the 2016 primary race, there is no doubt that he has long seen Clinton as the best hope for preserving his legacy.

In fact, that belief was one reason many people in the administration’s inner circle were wary of a run by Vice President Joe Biden.

“I think Barack Obama believes that it is incredibly important that Hillary Cinton succeeds him,” said a former close aide to Obama who is still connected with the White House