Capitol Hill Lawmakers Respond To Obama's Speech

The part of the State of the Union that the cameras don't usually catch, is the flood of senators and representatives out of the House chamber and into Statuary Hall. That's where the Capitol press corps waits for their reactions to the president's speech.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

After Mr. Obama finished his speech, lawmakers filed out of the House chamber and into Statuary Hall, where the press corps awaited.

NPR's Andrea Seabrook was among them and got reaction to the president's remarks.

ANDREA SEABROOK: It was Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger's first State of the Union.

Representative ADAM KINZINGER (Republican, Illinois): You know, this is something I've seen since I was a kid, and you always wonder what it would be like to be there, and then next thing you know, you hear the most famous line -you know, Mr. Speaker, the president of the United States - and you realize this is something that's happened hundreds of years before me and it'll continue a hundred years after.

SEABROOK: Kinzinger is one of the giant freshman class of new Republicans in the House. And like many in his party, one word in the president's speech caught his ear.

Rep. KINZINGER: You know, the code word's investment, which I think really means more spending. It's just a nice way to say it.

LIASSON: Kinzinger said Republicans won't let that nice word draw them into more deficit spending.

Oregon Democrat Earl Blumenauer wanted to hear a bit more depth from the president.

Representative EARL BLUMENAUER (Democrat, Oregon): I was a little concerned that we were really shy on details.

SEABROOK: Blumenauer is a strong advocate of public transportation and infrastructure renewal. He was glad Mr. Obama said the country needs to invest in those things, but Blumenauer is not sure how exactly the president is going to do that.

Mr. BLUMENAUER: With a five-year freeze on domestic spending and not doing it on the backs of vulnerable people, that to me is - is a bit of a stretch.

SEABROOK: Another one of those freshmen Republicans, Bill Huizenga of Michigan, was actually surprised to hear something he really liked in the State of the Union address, the part about making the tax code more fair.

Representative BILL HUIZENGA (Republican, Michigan): Closing some of those loopholes and really lowering the corporate tax rate - that, I think, is a positive thing. So the question is, is does it go far enough, fast enough - and from where I was sitting, the answer's no, but it's a good start.

SEABROOK: And members of both parties said they were inspired by one sentence in particular: We do big things in this country. Ohio's Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown loved it.

Senator SHERROD BROWN (Democrat, Ohio): That kind of call to our better side we don't have often enough from our leaders. We know how to out-compete and out-innovate anybody in the world, but we haven't been called to that standard in many years, and I think tonight the president did it and it's our obligation to move forward.

SEABROOK: Now, there was something lawmakers were reacting to last night other than the president's speech: themselves. Specifically, their seating arrangement. Many members of Congress paired up with someone from the opposite party in a show of bipartisan goodwill, but not everyone had a date and not everyone thought it was such a big deal.

Take California Democrat Brad Sherman.

Representative BRAD SHERMAN (Democrat, California): It's not a new experience to sit next to a Republican. It's not like they're from Mars or Uranus. Sitting next to a Republican is pretty much like sitting.

SEABROOK: And House freshman Republican Allen West of Florida thinks they should go back to sitting by party.

Representative ALLEN WEST (Republican, Florida): You know, we can talk about the Kumbaya moment, but the bottom line, as the president says, we're all Americans. We can have spirited debate, but at the end of the day we want what's best for this country. And just, you know, the gimmicks of the romper room sit-together, that has nothing to do with truly who we are.

SEABROOK: But Ohio's Republican Senator Rob Portman liked sitting with the others from Ohio, regardless of their party.

Senator ROB PORTMAN (Republican, Ohio): I thought it was great. I think it resulted in fewer standing ovations too, which is probably good, because we were more serious and maybe more focused on standing when appropriate but not just doing it on a partisan basis.

SEABROOK: Georgia Democrat John Lewis agreed.

Representative JOHN LEWIS (Democrat, Georgia): It meant a great deal. I've been here 24 years and I've never seen it like this before. The members felt good about what they were doing. And it's got to have an impact.

SEABROOK: Lewis said simply: We're human, we have feelings.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: