Back at work, Republicans assess Obama's address

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - 10:12pm

(CNN) -- If it's a honeymoon period, they might order separate rooms.

"One thing that is pretty clear from the president's speech yesterday: the era of liberalism is back," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said of President Barack Obama's inaugural address, which he called "unabashedly, far left of center."

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, fired back: "Let's look at what Mitch McConnell's scowl was all about."

On the first work day of Obama's term -- though he officially took the oath on Sunday, Monday was dedicated to ceremony and celebration -- members of both parties called for unity, but it was clear the divisions which were present last week did not heal themselves over the weekend.

Each party has laid out priorities for the next hundred days: Republicans want to pass a budget which balances within 10 years, and Democrats are pursuing reform to immigration and gun laws. But there are also concerns of immediate importance to the economy, including the debt ceiling, sequester and a resolution funding the government.

Washington began to confront those realities Tuesday, with Republicans saying Obama had missed an opportunity to bring them onboard with his inauguration address.

Rep. Paul Ryan, the 2012 Republican vice presidential candidate, said Obama had pulled a rhetorical "switcheroo" when he said entitlements such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security "do not make us a nation of takers."

"No one is suggesting that's what we call our earned entitlements -- entitlements you pay for, like payroll takes for Medicare and Social Security -- are putting you in a 'taker' category," Ryan said on the Laura Ingraham radio program. "Earned entitlements, where you pay your payroll taxes to get a benefit when you retire like Social Security and Medicare, are not taker programs, and I think when the president does kind of a switcheroo like that, what he's trying to say is that we are maligning these programs that people have earned through their working lives."

Instead, Ryan said, Obama employed "kind of a convenient twist of terms to try to shadowbox a straw man to try to win an argument by default, is essentially what that rhetorical device is he uses over and over and over."

Rep. Peter King of New York, who on Monday said Obama's address suggested "he wants to get a little revenge," was more moderated on Tuesday, saying the president could have done more to bring in Republicans.

"I think he should have done more to say there's honest disagreement. There's honest disagreement, we have strong views. Let's try to find more of a common ground," King said on CNN. "He didn't really acknowledge the honest disagreement."

King sounded similar tones as Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who said on MSNBC of Obama: "He did fine."

"I think he missed some opportunities to pull the country together. But a lot of his words were good words for the country to hear," Coburn said.

McConnell blasted both the president's speech and the platform he advocated in it.

"If the president pursues that kind of agenda obviously it is not designed to bring us together and certainly not designed to deal with the transcendent issue of our era which is deficit and debt," the Kentucky Republican said.

But Wasserman Schultz argued Obama's platform was mainstream.

"The president talked in his inaugural address yesterday about making sure that we can continue and finish the journey for Americans on the long march toward equality," she said. "That everyone, including LBGT Americans, should have an opportunity to be equal around the law and get that equal protection under the law. That women should be able to get equal pay for equal work. That we should make sure that we finally pass comprehensive immigration reform, so immigrants to this country have a rational way to actually remain here. And that we focus, finally, on climate change."

"All of those things are real problems, real issues that need to be addressed, and if the Republicans think that those are issues that won't unify the country, they clearly weren't listening during this last campaign," she said.

Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas said on the Fox Business Network that Obama "has been arrogant at times. I hate to say it, but sometimes dismissive, even derisive, and there were those kind of comments in this."

Several of the Republicans who spoke Tuesday were ready to move beyond the inaugural address and see how the political atmosphere would reform. Among them was House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who had his own share of fiscal showdowns with a Democratic president in the 1990s.

"Don't let Obama sucker you into him getting to say positive things and you going 'No,'" Gingrich said on CNN, offering his advice to House Speaker John Boehner. "I think it's very important for us to be the party that has dramatically better solutions to the future, not a party that simply wastes its energy fighting Barack Obama."

When Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin spoke on Fox late Monday, he was not only looking to Tuesday, but the days beyond it.

"Days like this are always very uplifting, but the rubber hits the road in the next couple days," he said. "I think for the 30 states that have Republican governors, we're hoping we got a president that's willing to work with the states, give us some authority to act on behalf of the taxpayers."

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