Bush Speech Draws Partisan Reaction on Hill Despite new calls for bipartisanship and unity, the president's appraisal of the nation's needs and his proposals to fix them draws mixed reviews — mostly along party lines.
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Bush Speech Draws Partisan Reaction on Hill

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Bush Speech Draws Partisan Reaction on Hill

Bush Speech Draws Partisan Reaction on Hill

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Now, let's find out what some lawmakers said after they finished applauding.

Here's NPR's David Welna.

DAVID WELNA: To observe the split reaction last night for the president's speech, you only have to look at the two people seated right behind the president. On one side, Vice President Cheney was often applauding, while on the other side, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was not. Maryland House Democrat Chris Van Hollen, who's a close ally of Pelosi's, said it was nice gesture for the president to acknowledge her being the first female speaker. But Van Hollen said Mr. Bush could have said more about who much Pelosi's accomplished already.

Representative CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (Democrat, Maryland): Not a word from the president acknowledging the work the speaker has done in this first 100 hours, in moving the Congress - in many cases on a bipartisan basis - to support many of these initiatives. And it was just a great opportunity for the president to extend a hand of partnership and say, I want to be a partner in change.

WELNA: Washington Senator Patty Murray who's a member of the Democratic leadership team said Mr. Bush simply did not want to acknowledge how much the political tables have turned.

Senator PATTY MURRAY (Democrat, Washington): I thought the president got a very tepid response tonight, because really, the voters in November, really asked for a change. And we didn't hear much of that, if any, in the president's speech tonight.

WELNA: The Democrat's official response to the speech came from Virginia freshman Senator Jim Webb, a father of a marine currently posted in Iraq. Webb, a former Republican who's opposed the war from the start, accused President Bush of taking the nation to war recklessly, and of holding the nation hostage to the disarray that's followed.

Senator JIM WEBB (Democrat, Virginia): The majority of the nature no longer supports the way this war is being fought, nor does the majority of our military, nor does the majority of Congress. We need a new direction. Not one step back from the war against international terrorism, not a precipitous withdrawal that ignores the possibility of further chaos; but an immediate shift towards strong regionally based diplomacy, a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq's cities, and a formula that will ensure order, allow our combat forces to leave Iraq.

WELNA: The Senate's number two Democrat, Dick Durbin, said the war seemed to take its toll on Mr. Bush himself last night.

Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): I've never heard a more dispirited presentation. It was flat. I think the president has been weighed down by the reality of this war, and the cost of it, and the understanding that the strategy that he is now recommending is a high-risk strategy not supported by the Iraqis, American people, or most of his generals.

WELNA: But Florida congressman Adam Putnam, who chairs the House Republican Conference, heard a completely different speech from what Durbin heard.

Representative ADAM PUTNAM (Republican, Florida): I thought the president did a great job of coming in and sticking to his core convictions. He didn't trim the sails a bit, despite all the pre-speech hype about, you know, the challenge that he faced of a skeptical Congress and poor approval ratings.

WELNA: And Arizona Republican Senator, Jon Kyl, heard a warning to Congress not to meddle with Iraq policy.

Senator JOHN KYL (Republican, Arizona): The president made a very persuasive case for supporting this effort. And implicit in that was not to pass resolutions that would discourage our troops or embolden our enemies.

WELNA: But other Republicans, many of them facing tough reelection bids next year, said the president had not changed their minds about opposing his troop build up in Iraq. One of them is Minnesota Senator, Norm Coleman.

Senator NORM COLEMAN (Republican, Minnesota): He's not going to move me. I still have a concern about a surge of troops in Baghdad. I have a concern about a surge of troops in the middle of sectarian violence, when I haven't seen the commitment on the part of the Iraqis to deal with that.

WELNA: North Carolina House Republican, Patrick McHenry, said Iraq, in the end, was on everyone's mind last night.

Representative PATRICK MCHENRY (Republican, North Carolina): I'm not sure if the polls will change as a result of this speech. But I think they will have some positive movement, because the president was resilient in his call for success, and Americans love victory and hate defeat.

WELNA: Still, what really matters, McHenry said, is what happens on the ground in Iraq.

David Welna, NPR News, The capital.

INSKEEP: And you can hear NPR analysis of key elements of the state of the union address by going to npr.org.

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