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January 25, 2011

US Congress Reacts to Obama Address

Reaction to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address broke mostly along party lines in Congress, with Democrats reacting more favorably than Republicans.

President Obama’s attempt to unify a divided Congress reflective of a politically-polarized nation got a positive review from Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas.

"It [the speech] was innovative, it was exciting.  You could see the president thoughtfully approach how we would move forward," she said. "That is what presidents do.  They lead.  They lay out a vision, a road map, and you are ready to go."

But President Obama’s call for a five-year domestic spending freeze to combat a trillion-dollar federal deficit did not satisfy Republican Representative Steve King of Iowa.

"He [President Obama] still believes in spending money as a recovery tool for this economy.  And, he still believes in nationalizing when he gets the opportunity to do it," said King. "So I think we [Republicans] have a giant fundamental disagreement with the president."

If Mr. Obama is attempting to adopt a more centrist tone to appeal to Republicans, the effort has not won over Arizona Congressman Trent Franks.

"He took a hard, hard turn to the center.  And, if the people believe that he means that, then shame on them," said Franks.

Despite partisan divides, not all Republican reaction was negative, and not all Democratic reaction was positive.  Representative King praised some of the president’s words on foreign affairs.

"The president’s remarks on Iraq were very good.  They were inspiring," added King. "They articulate the level of accomplishment and sacrifice.  And, the statement on Afghanistan, when he said of the enemy ‘we will defeat you’ -- that was a strong point in his speech."

At the opposite end of the political spectrum, Representative Jackson-Lee worries about the impact of a federal spending freeze on programs for the poor and disadvantaged.

"We have a vulnerable population in America.  We have to worry about those individuals who would be lost without the support, the helping hand of the federal government," said Jackson-Lee.

The speech came in the wake of a mass-shooting in Arizona that nearly claimed a congresswoman’s life.  In a show of unity and an attempt to erase partisan barriers, many members of Congress of one party exchanged seats with colleagues of another, rather than separating along party lines.  Democratic Representative Jim McDermott of Washington state noted a change in atmosphere during this State of the Union address, compared to speeches of the past.

"This was a somber evening, started by the acknowledgment of our comrade and colleague [Representative Gabrielle] Giffords," he said. "I think there was a different tone in the room and people understand that we have to work together if we are going to make this country work."

Any sense of camaraderie achieved during the State of the Union address will be put to the test as a Republican-led House of Representatives attempts to work with the a Democratically-controlled Senate and White House over the next two years.