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Indeed, Republicans appeared perplexed by Obama’s focus on social issues in his Monday speech. He began by praising Americans’ “skepticism of central authority” and how the nation has never “succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone.” But he moved on to expressing support for gay rights, climate change legislation, fair pay for women and citizenship for immigrant students.
“Well . . . a lot of that speech I would have been proud to have given. Particularly the first part,” said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, an influential conservative and chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. “A fair amount of it, not so.”
After heralding constraints on government established by the “patriots of 1776,” Obama transitioned into arguing that the values of the American Revolution should prompt the government to tackle the thorny problems of today.
His remarks on climate change “took me back a little bit,” Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said.
Obama also made an allusion to new gun control reforms and criticized the foreign policy of his predecessor, President George W. Bush, as “perpetual war.”
“I thought it was a little bit partisan,” Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, said.
“He said . . . we’ll have to agree on some things to get stuff done. The speech didn’t inspire me in that direction,” Rep. John Campbell, R-Calif., said.
Obama did receive some encouragement. Freshman Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, who has been working with a bipartisan group on possible areas of agreement on immigration, said he had spoken briefly to the president in the Capitol.
Flake said presidential leadership has been missing on the issue, and he welcomed the part of the speech where Obama promoted immigration reform.“If we can work jointly with the White House on this, it certainly saves time,” Flake said.
The senator added that the president should do more to reach out to the GOP, both on and off the Hill.
“He could invite us back to play basketball again at the White House. That would help, too,” Flake said.
Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.