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Congressional Leaders React to President Obama's Address

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Congressional leaders have had mixed reactions to President Barack Obama's first State of the Union speech.  A number of Democratic lawmakers said the president's speech was hopeful and upbeat, while some Republicans accused the president of  looking backwards and blaming his predecessor for the country's problems.

President Obama's first State of the Union address came at a time when his Democratic Party is still reeling from a stinging defeat last week for a U.S. Senate seat in the heavily Democratic state, Massachusetts.  Losing that seat in the Senate has hurt their chances of passing sweeping health care reform and unleashed a wave of anxiety ahead of congressional elections this November.

The president referred directly to last week's political setback, acknowledging that voters have a right to be angry.  But he told his fellow Democrats that they still have large majorities in both houses of Congress, and that they need to govern, instead of "running for the hills [retreating]."  He called on both Democrats and Republicans to overcome their bitter partisan divisions and work together to pass legislation to solve problems.

"What frustrates the American people is a Washington where every day is election day," he said.  "We cannot wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about the other side.  A belief 'if you lose, I win.'"

Republican Senator Bob Corker told VOA that the president's tone was cordial, but that the speech lacked specifics on ways to reach out to work with Republicans.

"I had hoped for more," said Corker.  "Certainly the tone was nice, but it just did not seem to me that on the issue of policies it just did not seem to me he really learned a great deal in the last couple of week.

Republican Senator Jon Kyl described the speech as too partisan, saying it sounded like a campaign speech instead of a State of the Union speech.  Kyl said the president was still blaming former President George Bush for the country's problems, even though he did not mention him by name.

"After more than a year, take ownership of the problems you have," he said.  "You campaigned for president to solve these problems, so stop complaining about the mess that you inherited."

Democrats, on the other hand, praised the president for being hopeful and for focusing on jobs - the top issue for most voters.  Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu told VOA she did not think it was a partisan political speech at all.

"The president was upbeat.  He deserves a lot of credit.  I was particularly happy to hear his focus," said Landreiu.  "At least 15 times mentioned small business, "main street", helping middle class families, jobs.  I think that really is what we need to be focused on.

President Obama got the most applause from opposition Republicans when he said the number-one focus in the coming year would be on creating jobs and giving a boost to small businesses.  But he got more applause from the Democratic side of the aisle than the Republican side when he called for Congress to pass a jobs creation bill and get it to his desk as quickly as possible.

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