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State of the Response? Divided on Party Lines

Saul Loeb/AFP/Pool

It took less than five minutes for Republicans to begin taking apart President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night.

With Obama only a tenth of the way through the hourlong speech, Speaker John Boehner’s office slammed him over his position on the Keystone XL pipeline.

“Obama Keystone Decision Destroys Manufacturing and Construction Jobs, Surrenders Energy Security to China,” the Ohio Republican’s team charged in an email to reporters.

The hit, one of 14 blast emails sent during the address, was part of a rapid-response effort by Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that provided a real-time rebuttal to Obama’s speech and previewed his party’s post-address response.

It was a familiar ritual, but also a sign that Obama’s stated goal in the speech of overcoming Washington partisanship is dead on arrival. Republicans by and large criticized the president, saying the speech — which often sounded more like a stump speech than traditional State of the Union address — was divisive and full of tired ideas, while Democrats praised the speech’s tone and its specific policy proposals.

In a statement following the speech, Boehner hammered Obama.

“Unable to run on his record, the president has regrettably turned to blame and division when what’s needed is a united effort to promote small business job creation,” he said.

In a statement, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor echoed the criticism.

“What the American people heard tonight is that the President’s latest vision relies on the same failed policies that haven’t worked to recover the economy or get people back to work,” the Virginia Republican said.

“When something doesn’t work, you change it. Instead of continuing the failed policies of President Obama that we know don’t work, let’s try something new. We can do better,” he added.

House Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas) dismissed Obama’s rhetoric on jobs and the economy and accused the president of using the address to make a campaign pitch based on class warfare.

“It was just too little too late. More of the same,” Hensarling said. “We’ve got a president who can’t run on his record, so we heard a lot about the politics of division and envy.”

Rep. Michele Bachmann was also harsh in her criticism, arguing that Obama “needs to follow the Constitution, given to us by the founders, and its one true fairness guide — equal protection under the law.”

“America was not founded on redistribution of wealth, but on free markets and the idea that everyone is entitled to the fruits of their labors,” the Minnesota Republican said.

Other Republicans, however, took a more measured approach.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) said that although he doesn’t mind optimism, the speech lacked specifics on how Obama would deal with jobs and unemployment issues.

“He missed the biggest challenges that we have as a country,” Alexander said. “We’re in trouble. We have persistent unemployment.”

Republican Policy Committee Chairman Tom Price (Ga.) gave perhaps the most tempered response to Obama’s address, calling the speech “disappointing.”

“I agreed with 80 percent of what he said, but I disagree with about 80 percent of his actions,” Price added, arguing that Obama’s rhetoric doesn’t match his actions, particularly on health care policy.

Unsurprisingly, Democrats had a markedly different opinion of Obama’s performance, giving the president generally high marks.

“Tonight, the president delivered a strong vision to the American people of an economy that’s built to last, that ensures a thriving middle class, that promotes fairness for working families, and that reignites the American dream,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said in a statement.

In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) praised Obama’s performance.

“President Obama offered common-sense solutions that will create jobs and put our country on a path to economic fairness. The policies proposed by the President will narrow the inequality gap in our country while making America a leader in clean energy technology, and continue the revival of our manufacturing sector,” Reid said.

The Senate’s top Democrat also took a shot at his GOP colleagues, saying, “We need Republicans to work with us, and refrain from turning straightforward issues into all-or-nothing battles. I am optimistic that this year, Republicans will turn away from the Tea Party, and listen to the American people instead.”

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin batted away criticism accusing Obama of simply giving a partisan, political speech. Obama “went out of his way to keep it at an issue level,” the Illinois Democrat said, adding that the president laid out ideas that “a majority of Americans” could support.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer also praised the speech, arguing that Obama “asked us to envision the stronger union we can achieve together.”

“The plan he laid out is rooted in the same values of fairness and responsibility that have enabled generations of Americans to climb ladders of opportunity and pass their faith in the American dream on to their children,” the Maryland Democrat added.

Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver said he was particularly happy with Obama’s proposals for high school graduation and foreclosure mitigation, and discounted the address’s political nature.

“Obviously it had some political components to it, but he repeated the theme of cooperation,” the Missouri Democrat said.

House Ways and Means ranking member Sander Levin (Mich.) was particularly pleased with the address.

“I think he was very specific ... on the domestic side, about two-thirds of it is in the jurisdiction of the Ways and Means Committee,” he said.

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (Mont.) said he was happy with Obama’s call for a speedy resolution to the lingering question of extending a popular payroll tax cut.

“It gave [chances of passage] a little extra boost,” Baucus said.

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