Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill struck bipartisan notes of praise for President Barack Obama’s first address to Congress – although with clearly different levels of enthusiasm for the specifics of Obama’s speech.
Democrats described themselves as “euphoric” while Republicans praised the hopeful tone of Obama’s remarks and his overtures to bipartisanship, although they worried about his calls for items such as a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions.
“The president had a tone of optimism,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said. McConnell said Obama balanced the state of the country with hope for the future, and said Republicans gave him “a nice, warm reception.”
“The only thing I was disappointed in was he went pretty lightly on Social Security,” McConnell said. “If he does want to step up to the plate on that, there will be a lot of Republicans that want to help.”
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Obama made a direct challenge to Congress to get off its duff. “It was kind of like throwing down the gauntlet to Congress…. We haven’t been pulling our weight over here. We’ve been drifting with three-day-a-week sessions. This is a full-time job, and we’ve got to roll up our sleeves.”
Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) said Obama’s focus on a brighter future helped lift the gloom of the past several weeks. “I was glad to see him be positive and start being inspiring and hopeful again,” Carter said. “He got elected because he inspired hope.”
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) noted that this was a speech about big problems and the need for bold solutions. “This wasn’t a long list of small items. … This speech met the tenor of the times.”
Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-Tenn.), who sat on the Republican side of the aisle after space ran out on the Democratic side, joked that he was teaching Republicans how to stand.
Davis said Obama hit the right tenor in talking to the “heart of America” about rising up from the economic recession.
“We seem to be in shock with what is happening to America,” Davis said. “We want a leader who will tell it to you straight.”
But Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) couldn’t resist a partisan dig, saying that “unlike after 9/11 when President Bush urged everyone to go shop,” Obama was “inspiring” in his call for everyone to get an education.
“That’s the kind of inspiration we need,” she said.
But Republican leaders, while generally praising Obama’s speech, also included plenty of criticism of his stimulus package and called for a more sincere effort at bipartisanship and for freezing spending rather than expanding it.
“Republicans want to be partners with the president in finding responsible solutions to the challenges facing our nation, but thus far Congressional leaders in the president’s own party have stood in the way,” House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said.