Deep Partisan Split on Obama Speech
Democrats loved the president’s speech; Republicans hated it. What else is new?
President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address didn’t bridge the partisan divide in Washington, nor did anyone — least of all the White House — expect it to do so. But the pre-canned tweets, prebuttals and lightning-fast reaction from congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle turned the legislatively modest presidential agenda quickly into chum for partisan consumption.
Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, who spent much of the speech sitting glumly behind the president, said the president “is clearly out of ideas.”
“With few bipartisan proposals, Americans heard a president more interested in advancing ideology than in solving the problems regular folks are talking about,” Boehner said. “Instead of our areas of common ground, the president focused too much on the things that divide us — many we’ve heard before — and warnings of unilateral action. The president must understand his power is limited by our constitution, and the authority he does have doesn’t add up to much for those without opportunity in this economy.”
Boehner did however, offer to work with the president on immigration, patent changes, skills and education, and energy and water infrastructure — leaving room for some actual legislating before both sides focus on the November elections.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said Obama may have said that he’s “eager” to work with Congress but that hasn’t been the case.
“For years, President Obama has chosen to withdraw from policy debates and ignore our Constitutional balance of power,” he said in his statement. “Let’s put away the pen, and pick up the phone and work together to find common ground. That is something all Americans expect of the Congress, as well as the President.”
Democrats predictably cheered a speech sprinkled throughout with red meat for the Democrats to fire up their base in November — from a minimum wage hike to equal pay for women to extending unemployment insurance.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., issued a statement squarely focused on the elections. “The key issue of the 2014 elections will be who can do more for the middle class — raise middle class incomes and create more good paying jobs,” he said. “The President’s speech shows that he gets it. Helping the middle class will supersede every other issue in November.”
Schumer said in an interview that he doesn’t think many Democrats would react negatively to Obama’s threat to do more via executive actions.
“I think very few,” Schumer said when asked. “The No. 1 thing the American people are frustrated about is government’s inability to help them. [It’s] government. They don’t say the legislative branch, they don’t say the executive branch. And they want some action. I think everyone prefers that we do it with Congress and there are a few signs we can do it within Congress on a few issues. But faced with the choice of nothing or executive, I think … 90 percent of Americans and 90 percent of Democrats would say ‘go for it.’”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., also cheered the speech.
“President Obama tonight described the progress we’ve made as a nation and pointed the way to where we need to go,” he said.
“Giving hard-working Americans a raise by increasing the minimum wage is a good place to start. The Senate will vote on this proposal in the coming weeks, and I hope Republicans will join us in turning this and other common-sense proposals into law.”
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., hoped the speech would lead the way to build on the bipartisan budget deal she helped craft last year. “I am ready to keep working to build on the bipartisan budget deal, and I hope Republicans are ready to join me at the table,” she said.
House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia, meanwhile, urged the president to pay more attention to House GOP ideas on issues like immigration.
“If President Obama is serious about immigration reform, he will listen to new and different ideas presented by House Republicans to improve our immigration system because House Republicans and the American public have rejected the Senate approach and the President’s sweeping executive actions that have resulted in the dismantling of our immigration laws,” he said in his statement. “Our immigration system is in desperate need of reform and I remain committed to working on this critical issue with my colleagues. However, we don’t need another massive, Obamacare-like bill that is full of surprises and dysfunction after it becomes law,” he said.
Goodlatte also vowed to push for an overhaul of the NSA’s surveillance activities, and he backed the president’s call to end abusive patent litigation.
Other Republicans noted the central dichotomy of the speech — with Obama repeatedly offering to work with members of Congress and yet around them at the same time.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, called the speech “strange.”
“There seemed to be an interest on reaching out, but he threw out some red meat for the base.”
“The President’s decision to issue Executive Orders, to make recess appointments, or to suspend enforcement of certain laws is inconsistent with our Constitutional system of checks and balances,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. “Americans are rightfully disappointed with the gridlock and partisanship so prevalent in Washington these days, and I share this frustration. The President is in a unique position to foster compromise, and he should recommit to work with members of Congress in order to reach consensus and move our country — and our economy — forward.”
Portman said Obama did give Republicans “some openings on trade” as well as energy.
Portman, looking from notes during the speech, said he is also interested in the proposal for startup retirement accounts.
“I do a lot work in the retirement area,” Portman said.
But he thought that Obama may have given 401(k)s short shrift, which Portman said has been a good program.
Emma Dumain, Daniel Newhauser, Humberto Sanchez, Matt Fuller and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.