Sen. Kyl: Obama Speech Too Political

President Obama used his State of the Union speech to prod lawmakers to work together. He made sharp remarks about obstructionist Republicans, and problems left behind by the past administration. Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) said the speech was too long and too political. He tells Steve Inskeep if Obama's intent was to reach out to Republicans, he failed.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

ARI SHAPIRO, host:

And I'm Ari Shapiro. President Obama used his State of the Union speech to prod lawmakers to work together and to work with him.

President BARACK Obama: Washington may think that saying anything about the other side, no matter how false, no matter how malicious, is just part of the game. But it's precisely such politics that has stopped either party from helping the American people.

SHAPIRO: He made sharp remarks about obstructionist Republicans and problems left behind by the last administration.

INSKEEP: All of which stung a leading Republican senator, Jon Kyl of Arizona.

So what did you think of the speech?

Senator JON KYL (Republican, Arizona): Well, you know, it's customary to say, well, the rhetoric was good, but maybe he needed more substance. That's the usual assessment of State of the Union speeches. I found this one to be A, too long, B, too political, and if he had an intention to reach out to Republicans, I can tell you it did not achieve the objective, nor did I think it was as much an assessment of the state of the nation or union as it was a political tirade.

INSKEEP: What do you mean too political?

Sen. KYL: First of all, I would've thought by now he would've stopped blaming the Bush administration for the mess that he inherited. And I don't think that the American people want a whiner who says, woe is me. It was a terrible situation. And more than a year after he's sworn in, he's still complaining about the Bush administration.

You know, he has created a huge deficit as a result of his spending. Now, he said, well, it was necessary to get us out of the mess. It wasn't. The $800 billion stimulus bill has been shown not to have provided the benefits that he said it would. So there's just a lot of disingenuousness in this political speech tonight.

INSKEEP: We're talking with Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona. And senator, I want to play a little bit of the president's speech last night that seemed to be aimed quite directly at you and other Republican leaders.

Pres. OBAMA: And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that 60 votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town - a supermajority - then the responsibility to govern is now yours, as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it's not leadership.�

INSKEEP: Is the responsibility now on your shoulders, Senator Kyl?

Sen. KYL: The point is that we are not saying no to everything, and we do not require 60 votes for everything. That's typical misrepresentation by the president in order to make a rhetorical point. It is true that Republicans have an obligation to govern, too. And I would say it really doesn't matter who has more votes. Our obligation is equal.

But saying no to very bad legislation is not wrong. In fact, when the American people tell you that they don't want the health care bill, you've got a responsibility to say no. And this is one of those things that I was referring to when I talked about a campaign speech.

The president blames Republicans for saying no to his bill, when if he listened to the American people, he would appreciate that they wanted us to say no to his bill. And that's precisely what the Massachusetts election results revealed.

INSKEEP: Can you give me an example? I mean, you've asserted that you're not saying not to everything. Is there a major issue in the last year where you've been able to work with the president?

Sen. KYL: Well, sure. He just asked for our support on his Afghan-Pakistan policy, and we supported that. Not all Democrats did. I think all Republicans did.

We do a lot of things that the public doesn't really see very much about, even by unanimous consent in the Senate. In fact, a lot of the things that we do on behalf our states we're working with each other on across the aisle. Sometimes it's more regional than it is party-based.

But the really big things - like health care, for example - do take 60 votes. There has never been an example of something as big as this health care legislation getting through with a pure partisan vote. And that's something that a very moderate Republican senator has remarked upon. I'm talking about Olympia Snowe from Maine.

INSKEEP: Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, thanks very much.

Sen. KYL: You're very welcome.

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