The GOP took Obama's words as such a significant threat that it overshadowed other areas where the two parties have acknowledged they could perhaps work together on the agenda the president outlined in his State of the Union address, including tax reform, a plan to promote the use of natural gas, a job training proposal and pension reform.
Instead, most GOP lawmakers emerged from the chamber focused on Obama’s promise to move his agenda “without legislation,” if necessary.
“He should work with Congress, not just declare he’s going to do it on his own if Congress doesn’t go along,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., said. “That is what he was basically telling us. The arrogance of the substance was somewhat hidden by the very fine delivery of the speech.”
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the speech showed that Obama “is clearly out of ideas” and is more interested in pursuing an ideological agenda “than in solving the problems regular folks are talking about.”
Some lawmakers, including Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., were frustrated by the president’s declaration and left the chamber threatening lawsuits and legislation aimed at blocking what they consider excessive executive action.
“He believes he has more power than the Constitution allows him,” Bachmann said.
Obama’s proclamation did little to strengthen his relationship with newer Republican members of Congress, including those who have shown interest in working with the president on major legislation.
“The best way for Congress and the president to enact positive solutions is to have a spirit of mutual trust, a commitment to good-faith negotiations, and a shared understanding of our constitutional responsibilities,” said Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, one of the GOP lawmakers who in the past have shown interest in working with Obama on immigration reform.
“Unfortunately, what I heard from President Obama tonight was hostility toward our foundational principles, condescension toward a co-equal branch of government, and a general aversion to common sense and bipartisanship,” he added.
Republican lawmakers offered a litany of complaints about the speech, criticizing the president’s declaration that climate change is indisputable and that the minimum wage should be increased by nearly 40 percent, to more than $10 an hour.
“This is the wrong time for a minimum wage increase,” Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said after the speech. “The economy is still weak. Why make it more expensive for employers to hire more workers?”
Even before lawmakers filed out of the House chamber, the partisan division was clear. Republicans mostly avoided shaking hands with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who has led the botched rollout of Obamacare. And GOP members rarely stood up to clap for the president’s proposals, remaining seated during repeated standing ovations from Democrats.
Army Ranger Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg, a wounded war veteran who was a guest in the viewing gallery, received two of the few bipartisan standing ovations, before the speech and toward the end of Obama's comments.
As in years past, some lawmakers tried to bridge the partisan divide through seating arrangements, with Republicans and Democrats sitting side by side. And some Republicans clapped during Obama’s remarks, in particular his call for immigration reform, with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., standing up to applaud alongside Democrats.
Most Democrats praised the speech, but Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., appeared troubled by Obama’s call for tax reform “that stops giving $4 billion a year to fossil fuel industries that don’t need it.”
Manchin said he questioned where that money would come from, saying the coal industry that is central to his state’s economy has already been overly punished by the administration.
“I don’t know where the $4 billion can come from,” Manchin said after the speech. “They can’t attack coal any more than they’ve attacked it, so I hope there must be something else they are talking about.”
“President Obama tonight described the progress we’ve made as a nation and pointed the way to where we need to go,” Reid said in a statement that also called for raising the minimum wage.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., however, said the speech was among Obama’s best and suggested it would help boost the president’s sagging poll numbers.
“If ever there was a comeback kid, this was the comeback kid,” Boxer said as she walked back to the Senate.
“Everything this president said spoke to issues that average people care about, including his remarks about transportation, water infrastructure, climate change, all of that. And of course building up the middle class,” said Boxer.
This story was published at 12:16 a.m. and has been updated.