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Members Of Congress React To Obama's Speech


Though millions of Americans watched the televised speech, the president's ostensible audience was right in front of him - Congress. His relations with many Republican lawmakers are icy at best. And even his alliances with Democrats had been put under stress at times in the past year.

The lawmakers' responses to the speech ranged from predictable to somewhat surprised. NPR's Andrea Seabrook listened to lawmakers after the speech.

ANDREA SEABROOK, BYLINE: After last year's State of the Union, some in the brand new freshman class looked stunned as they walked into the swarm of reporters waiting for them outside the chamber. This year? Their reactions to the speech were ready.

REPRESENTATIVE ALLEN WEST: You know, its fairy dust. I mean we continue to talk about fairy dust.

SEABROOK: Allen West, a Republican freshman from Florida.

WEST: I heard a lot of good rhetoric, a lot of the things that were said in the last Sate of the Union address. I heard a lot of programs that the president brought up, but how are we going to pay for these things?

SEABROOK: At least some Republicans seemed disarmed by the president's ideas. Michael Burgess of Texas was glad to hear the accolades for the military and Mr. Obama's support of new natural gas drilling.

REPRESENTATIVE MICHAEL BURGESS: There were parts of it where I was pretty enthusiastic about what the president was saying. In fact, someone just told me that they wondered if the president had become a Republican.

SEABROOK: California Republican Dana Rohrabacher said the president tried to take both sides on a lot of issues.

REPRESENTATIVE DANA ROHRBACHER: I mean, I just wonder, for example, if the military is going to be able to do all these wonderful things he was bragging about once he gets done cutting their budget like he's been proposing.

SEABROOK: For their part, Democrats said they felt re-charged by the speech. Like Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown.

SENATOR SHERROD BROWN: The president laid out a manufacturing strategy that this country desperately needs. Thirty years ago, almost 30 percent of our GDP was manufacturing; today only 10 percent is. It's a ticket to the middle class, it creates other kinds of spin-off jobs, and we know how to do it.

SEABROOK: Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said she was glad to hear President Obama acknowledge the intense partisanship in Congress right now but refuse to be stopped by it.

REPRESENTATIVE DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: And so acknowledging that and then saying, so if you can't do the big things, then at least try to do some of the smaller things, and let's address reform in smaller bites.

SEABROOK: Some lawmakers were even glad to hear the president push them to do more. Georgia Democrat John Lewis.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN LEWIS: He said it doesn't matter whether we're black or white or Asian-America or Latino or Native American, whether we're straight or gay. We've got to pull together and work together. And I think the American people are going to be saying to their elected representatives, listen to the president, do something.

SEABROOK: There was a corner of the House chamber where bipartisanship held sway. Gabrielle Giffords, the congresswoman who was shot a year ago this month, sat between two colleagues from her home state of Arizona. On her right, Republican Jeff Flake.

REPRESENTATIVE JEFF FLAKE: To watch the president come over and the vice president, and Supreme Court justices and generals, and the secretary of state and everyone, just to greet her, and it was just a very special experience.

SEABROOK: On Giffords' left, Democrat Raul Grijalva. He choked up a bit, talking about the bittersweet moment.

REPRESENTATIVE RAUL GRIJALVA: How well she looks, how engaged she is, that was wonderful. There's a little bit of sadness too because this is the last time that we'll be sitting as colleagues on that floor.

SEABROOK: Giffords resigns her seat in the House today to continue working on her recovery. She used her last State of the Union night to send a message of unity and common purpose at a time when the political divisions are all too obvious. Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrea Seabrook covers Capitol Hill as NPR's Congressional Correspondent.