Obama's Second Inaugural Address Didn't Win Over Many Republicans

Many Republicans were hoping for something akin to the president's 2004 convention speech where he talked about there being no red America or blue America but the United States of America.

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And that's not the only fight brewing in Washington. President Obama's inaugural address may have Democrats singing his praises, but not Republicans. In his first term, the president tried without success to bring a new post-partisan era to Washington. As NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson reports, Mr. Obama used yesterday's speech to change course, laying out a liberal agenda and signaling his intent to fight for it.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Republicans didn't just object to President Obama's speech, they were affronted by it. Whit Ayres is a Republican pollster and strategist.

WHIT AYRES: Republicans were hoping for something akin to the president's 2004 convention speech where he talked about there being no red America or blue America, but a United States of America. But his tone yesterday was 180 degrees away from that tone in 2004. It was graceless, confrontational, combative, in your face.

LIASSON: It was the tone, even more than the substance, that bothered Republicans. House Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan, who was Mitt Romney's running mate, told the Laura Ingraham Show today that Mr. Obama's speech departed from the approach of a traditional inaugural address.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW)

REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN: There was sort of, you know, campaign's over, bring everybody together and try and unify. That was not a speech we got and it doesn't surprise me that he did that because he's basically saying: I'm a liberal and I'm going to govern as a liberal and I won, so there.

LIASSON: Ron Bonjean, a former House Republican leadership aide, said the absence of any olive branches indicates how the president sees the way forward.

RON BONJEAN: There is no, you know, let's be nonpartisan, let's be bipartisan. This is a I am - it's my way or the highway and I'm moving forward with it, and we're going to roll over Republicans in the process, if that's what has to happen.

LIASSON: It's not news that gun control, climate change and immigration reform will all be part of the president's agenda this term. But what surprised Republicans was what they saw as a retreat from any notion of compromise on the budget deficit, which will be the biggest fight this year. Ron Bonjean.

BONJEAN: The president seemed to put up a barrier around Social Security and Medicare to say that, you know, these programs work and we're not going to touch them.

LIASSON: Here's what Mr. Obama said.

(SOUNDBITE OF INAUGURAL ADDRESS)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit, but we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.

LIASSON: The conventional wisdom in Washington says that in order to resolve our fiscal problems, everybody has to give up something. But, says Whit Ayres, that's not what he heard from Mr. Obama.

AYRES: The tone we heard yesterday from the president was that if anyone voted for me, you don't have to give up anything and if anybody voted for Mr. Romney, we're coming after you. That's not a tone that is likely to engender a bipartisan compromise.

LIASSON: But the White House insists that the president's most recent offer to trim entitlements, which he put on the table in the unsuccessful talks with House Speaker John Boehner in December, is still there. Maybe the president's new harder-edged tone comes from four years of learning that it's better to compromise at the end of a negotiation instead of at the beginning. Ron Bonjean.

BONJEAN: I feel like the president used his inauguration speech to stake out exactly what he wants, as opposed to offering his willingness to negotiate, which I think will come later, either in the sequester or funding the government or on the debt ceiling. But at some point, there is going to be some type of negotiation over entitlement reform.

LIASSON: It's kind of like haggling over the price of a car, says Bonjean, and that's the most charitable interpretation of the president's speech from the Republican point of view. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.

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