WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama called on Washington to work together in his State of the Union address Tuesday night and lawmakers crossed the aisle to sit with each other in a show of bipartisanship.
But reaction to the speech from Arizona’s congressional still split mostly along party lines.
“I liked it. I liked the idea about investing in our people. I liked the idea about a fairness in our tax code, everybody shares the burden,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson. “I really liked when he said, ‘I am not going to let us go back to the policies that got us here.’”
Rep. Trent Franks, R-Glendale, on the other hand, said he was not sure the speech “has any positive dimension for Arizona.”
“He (Obama) said a lot of wonderful things. The notion that he quoted Lincoln and that the government should only do for the people what they can’t do for themselves,” Franks said. “But that’s like Elmer Fudd starting a rabbit protection agency. It’s just completely antithetical to everything he’s ever done.”
Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Flagstaff, said bipartisanship needs to work in both directions, noting the president’s vow to move forward on his agenda “either with us or he’ll do it without Congress.”
“I think that’s a dangerous comment,” said Gosar, who did not attend the speech but watched from back in Arizona. Gosar said he felt it was more important to spend time with constituents than attend what he likened to a campaign speech.
“Once again, it’s filled with promises and bigger government and more spending which is something that we … cannot afford,” Gosar said. “It still does not address that we are in grave condition economically. We need a government that works with us, not dictating to us.”
The president’s address, his third, ran an hour and 10 minutes and was interrupted repeatedly by applause – mostly from Democratic members at the joint session of Congress.
His “Blueprint for an America Built to Last” touched on broad themes of economic strength, energy independence and financial parity.
“Think about the America within our reach: A country that leads the world in educating its people. An America that attracts a new generation of high-tech manufacturing and high-paying jobs,” he said.
“A future where we’re in control of our own energy, and our security and prosperity aren’t so tied to unstable parts of the world … An economy built to last, where hard work pays off, and responsibility is rewarded,” Obama said.
The president noted successes in Iraq and against al Qaeda in the last year, and said the economy is returning. But he called for a renewal of America’s manufacturing base, promised to target businesses that move profits offshore and to crack down on countries that infringe on U.S. intellectual property and do not engage in fair and open markets.
Obama also called for comprehensive immigration reform, saying his administration was cracking down on illegal immigration and that opponents of further reform “are out of excuses.” That is particularly true of immigrants who grow up here after being brought here as children, he said.
“Send me a law that gives them the chance to earn their citizenship. I will sign it right away,” he said to applause.
Rep. Trent Franks, R-Glendale, said comprehensive reform is “what the Republicans have been saying for years.” Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Mesa, agreed that reform is needed but that “we got to have more border security first.”
Gosar looked past immigration reform to Operation Fast and Furious, the failed Justice Department gun-trafficking investigation. He called it “inappropriate” to talk about reform while “we’ve used Mexican lives as collateral, we’ve used American lives as collateral.”
“To jump to the DREAM Act … well, you’ve gotta secure our borders to be able to do that,” Gosar said.
But Grijalva said it is past time for the country to move on immigration reform and the DREAM Act, which gives a path to citizenship under some circumstances for immigrants brought here illegally as children.
“I’m glad he brought it up,” Grjalva said. “He said if you’re not going to do anything about comprehensive reform because of divisions in this Congress, then let’s do something for the 100,000 … that have so much to contribute to America.”
Rep. Ed Pastor, D-Phoenix, said he was impressed by Obama’s call for Congress and the nation to pull together and for everyone to do their part to move the country forward.
“Everybody needs to feel a little bit of the pain, but everybody needs to contribute a little bit. That’s what makes this country great,” Pastor said.
“We need to rein in our deficit, but we need to invest in the future,” said Pastor, who thought the speech – the 20th he has heard as a member of Congress – “struck chords” that will resonate with Americans.
Pastor agreed with Obama that, with wars winding down overseas, it’s possible and preferable for the country to invest back home.
But Flake, in a prepared statement released immediately after the speech, said it did not do enough to reduce the “crippling debt to the next generation.”
If there was one area that both sides could agree on, it was the uplifting presence of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Tucson, who was grievously wounded in a shooting spree just weeks before the 2011 address. She returned this week for what will be her last speech as a member of Congress – she is scheduled to resign Wednesday to focus on her recovery.
Giffords sat between Flake and Grijalva, a bow to last year’s address when the two men sat next to an empty seat that would have been hers.
Flake said it was “certainly nice to sit with Gabby Giffords. It was much better than having the empty chair next to us last year.”
“That was beautiful. I’m so thankful she was here” Franks said. “That was the highlight of the night without a doubt.”
But even that moment could not completely skirt party lines.
“She (Giffords) was engaged in the whole speech, and her and I were cheering him (Obama) on,” Grijalva said.
“Flake wasn’t cheering him on that often, but we were cheering him on,” he said with a laugh.
- Cronkite News Service reporters Salvador Rodriguez, Stephanie Snyder and Dustin Volz contributed to this report.