Obama's Friends and Foes in Congress

The president's bold agenda faces cheers—and jeers—from Capitol Hill.

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On the other side of the aisle, most Republicans have turned a cold shoulder to Obama's attempts at political courtship. Saying they're more than the "Party of No," they've begun pitching policy alternatives, though shrunken minorities in both houses make it difficult for their ideas to gain traction. Their attack machine, though, has been roaring practically 24-7.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. The head of a caucus that has dropped to 40 members, the Republican leader regularly takes aim at the White House. His mantra on Obama's $3.5 trillion budget proposal is "It spends too much, taxes too much, and borrows too much." The line was widely parroted by GOP lawmakers in both chambers. He and House Minority Leader John Boehner meet weekly, and their staffs are in constant contact. Often they'll target areas where they perceive Obama as weak: spending, record deficits, pork projects in the $787 billion stimulus, and closing the Guantánamo Bay prison. McConnell, 67, a methodical, cool-under-pressure player who was elected to the Senate in 1984, is quick to point out that neither party has had a filibuster-proof 60 seats during his tenure. But if defections on key votes give him heartburn, Specter's exit had him fuming, and the Minnesota contest could give Democrats 60.

House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio. An impulsive gesture, or planned political theater? You be the judge. Check out Boehner on YouTube on February 13, when he held a stack of papers constituting the 1,100-page stimulus and charged that not a single member of Congress had read the bill as the vote neared. "What happened to the promise that we're going to let the American people see what's in the bill for 48 hours?" he roared, dropping the stack on the floor in disgust. Before long, the YouTube spot had 472,678 viewings.

Boehner, 59, a perpetually tanned golfer and fixture on the talk shows, says that he wants the GOP to be the "party of better solutions." Though he has been a guest at Obama's White House, he's not smitten. "It's better than nothing, but thus far the outreach hasn't extended to working with Republicans on policy," an aide says.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia. The Richmond conservative saw to it that not a single House Republican voted for the stimulus. Cantor, 45, entered Congress in 2001 and now holds the No. 2 spot among House Republicans. He's promoting what he calls an "entrepreneurial insurgency" by offering policy alternatives. He may speak with a Southern drawl, but his genteel exterior conceals a street fighter within.

House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana. Once a conservative talk-radio host, Pence, 49, elected in 2000, is never at a loss for words. Ranked third in the House GOP leadership, Pence tried to distance himself from Rush Limbaugh's comment that he hopes Obama fails because of his "socialist" policies, but the lawmaker said he agreed with the talk giant's condemnation of those policies. And he tore into Obama for shaking Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's hand, slamming Chávez as a "virulent, anti-American, socialist dictator."

House Republican Steve King of Iowa. A reliable loose cannon, King, 59, saw his name identification soar when he warned that if Obama were elected, radical Islamists "will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on September 11." Next, the four-term lawmaker questioned Obama's using his full name, including the middle name, Hussein, at his swearing-in. Since such remarks can backfire, some Demo-crats regard King as the gift that keeps on giving.