Republicans and Democrats walked away from the State of the Union further divided Tuesday night as President Barack Obama vowed to reduce income inequality and use his executive office to bypass the 113th Congress, which has reached historic lows when it comes to productivity.
“I am eager to work with all of you, but America does not stand still and neither will I,” Obama said.
Republicans were angry and put off by Obama’s message that he would go it alone, especially after they say Congress has seen a resurgence of bipartisan cooperation lately. Lawmakers announced a farm bill compromise Monday and passed an omnibus spending bill earlier this month.
“Most of those things have been accomplished without much executive involvement or leadership,” says Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. “The things that matter are legislative accomplishments. Any president can issue executive orders so there is a limit to what you can do. If you overuse it or explicitly overuse it, you are liable to create a reaction that is unproductive.”
Tea party stalwart Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., says she was hoping the House could pass legislation to sue the president if he took too big of a legislative leap without Congress.
“The president renewed his commitment that he was going to be King Obama. This is something that is really frightening to the American people,” Bachmann says, pledging to advance legislation and file a lawsuit against the president.
Obama delivered his address to a body that has become his biggest obstacle in recent years. Be it immigration reform or raising the debt ceiling, the administration has been met with resistance from House Republicans at every turn. But while many Republicans blasted Obama for looking for ways to proceed without them, some Democrats congratulated the president for moving forward at any cost.
“It would be better if Congress would join us, but if there are people who are just going to obstruct, he is going to do it on his own and that is a lot better than nothing,” says Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Heading into a bitter campaign season, the divide between Republicans and Democrats is only expected to grow wider. Obama’s calls to extend long-term unemployment benefits and increase the minimum wage likely will fall on deaf and distracted ears on Capitol HIll, but the message could have a bigger impact on the midterm elections. Republicans only need six seats to win the majority in the Senate, and pundits from both sides of the aisle admit Democrats don’t stand a strong chance at taking back the House of Representatives.
Still, Democrats were pleased that the president unveiled a legislative framework that focused on reducing income inequality. Even if it’s not achievable, members believe it gives the Democratic Party the upper hand among voters.
“The defining issue of this election is going to be middle-class security and the president defined that issue head-on,” says Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y. “Economic prosperity for everyone moves people in red districts, in blue districts and in all of our battleground districts. It made sense as a matter of good economic policy, but also it was a strong message that defines the battlegrounds this election year.”
However, Republicans still maintain it is the president’s signature health care law that will dominate the election. Obama challenged Republicans to do more than attack the law and vote to repeal it, and he handed Democrats a line that launched them to their feet in explosive applause.
“If you have specific plans to cut costs, cover more people and increase choice, tell America what you’d do differently. Let’s see if the numbers add up,” Obama said. “But let’s not have another 40-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans.”
But even as the State of the Union may be more rhetoric than reality -- a White House wish list that even in the best political circumstances would be difficult to fulfill -- it’s an event worthy of its pomp and circumstance. Everyone from Supreme Court justices to the president’s cabinet gathers together, and as Obama moves from one handshake to the next, it’s a rare glimpse into how the president interacts with his allies and foes.
Corrected on Jan. 28, 2014:
A previous version of this story misstated the
number of seats Republicans must win to earn control of the Senate.