Republican lawmakers criticized President Obama’s inaugural address Monday, saying he failed to reach out to their party.
“I would have liked to have seen some outreach,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who lost to Obama in the 2008 presidential race. “This is the eighth [inauguration] that I’ve been to and always there’s been a portion of the speech where [the president says], ‘I reach out my hand because we need to work together.’ That wasn’t in this speech.”
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a member of leadership, said the speech was “mostly 30,000-foot stuff” that did not extend any olive branches to the GOP.
“It did seem that he wasn’t doing the kind of outreach that he needs to do if he wants to get things accomplished in a second term,” Thune said. “We’ll see how it’s received.”
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she believed Obama intended to reach out to Republicans in his second term, but that the speech strayed too far toward partisan rhetoric.
“I had hoped his speech would be a little less partisan than it was at times, but I nevertheless think he intends to reach out and work together, and I liked the diversity of the program,” Collins said.
Other Republicans likewise offered praise for the address by Obama, who repeatedly talked of the need for the nation, and its government, to come together to solve problems.
“I do come away with hope, as long as from the bully pulpit, he speaks the same way in the days ahead as he did today,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). He said he appreciated Obama talking about being “one people” and “one nation under God.”
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the No. 2-ranked Republican in the upper chamber, said that he didn’t want to criticize Obama on Inauguration Day.
“He appealed to our better angels,” Cornyn said. “Any differences we have on policy, the president gets a pass on his inauguration.”
Former GOP presidential candidate and House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) praised not only the speech but also the president’s move to have congressional leaders at the White House for coffee before the inauguration ceremonies Monday morning.
“If he follows through with this kind of effort to find ways to work together, we might be very surprised,” Gingrich said. “I didn’t think it was very liberal. I mean, there were one or two sentences obviously conservatives would reject. But 95 percent of the speech, I thought, was classically American, you know, emphasizing hard work and emphasizing self-reliance, emphasizing doing things together.”
Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said that the White House would need to reach out to Republicans in Congress if the challenges of the debt and deficit were actually going to get addressed.
“The part I liked is when he emphasized working together — that’s what we need,” Hoeven said. “He’s going to have to reach out to make that happen. It can’t be just him saying this is how he wants it done, he’s got to come meet the Congress and work with us to accomplish those objectives.”
The president’s speech address did not delve into many specifics of the divisive policy issues facing Washington, though he did emphasize climate change and gave nods to immigration and gun reform legislation.
Several Republicans noted that Obama had made little reference in the speech to the issues like the debt ceiling, the budget and taxes that will quickly threaten to erode whatever good will there might still be at the start of the president’s second term.
“I was pleased to see that in general the theme was about working together as one, but I thought where he missed an opportunity was to go beyond those issues where we know the president stands and talk about how to find common ground,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio.). “It was as if there was no sense of urgency about what I think are the core issues that we should be addressing as a Congress and as president.”
Following the speech, House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) issued a statement calling on the Senate to put the president’s words into action by passing a budget.
“The president’s eloquent words must be matched with deliberate actions to restore the country’s fiscal health,” she said in a statement.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), the longest-serving GOP senator, said there were certainly things he differed with in the speech, but that overall he found a positive message. “It was a ‘together’ agenda, as far as I can see,” Hatch said.
He was less certain whether the speech would actually lead to more bipartisanship in the 113th Congress.
“Let me put it this way: I think we’re going to have some very interesting times, some very trying times,” Hatch said.