- The Washington Times - Friday, January 29, 2010

Republican lawmakers searched Thursday for ways to support President Obama, but said his calls for bipartisanship fell flat amidst his lecturing tone and the repeated barbs he aimed at them during his State of the Union address Wednesday night.

The stark speech seemed to draw lines not only between parties, but between branches of government and even between the two chambers of Congress. With six Supreme Court justices seated in front of him, Mr. Obama attacked last week’s campaign-finance ruling, and at two other points, he had House Democrats standing on their feet and applauding as he challenged their Senate colleagues to speed up the legislative process.

As for partisanship, all told, there were more than 30 times when Democrats stood to applaud while Republicans sat on their hands, and only a handful of occasions when Republicans applauded the president while Democrats did not.

“This was my 30th State of the Union message, and I have got to say that I don’t remember one that was more partisan than this one,” said Rep. David Dreier, California Republican. “The idea of taking on the United States Supreme Court, the idea of looking over to us and saying to us that, rather than listening to the polls, we should do what’s right.”

Mr. Obama has promised to try to do more outreach, and said in his address to Congress that he would like to begin holding monthly meetings with the leaders of both Republicans and Democrats in Congress.

“I know you can’t wait,” he joked.

Both sides said they’re willing to talk, though it was unclear what they would talk about. Much of the back-and-forth Thursday seemed to center on whether the president will actually listen, and what Republicans actually have to say.

Mr. Obama will address House Republicans on Friday in Baltimore, and along the way he will stop at a small business and announce a tax credit for businesses that hire new employees or boost wages or hours for existing employees.

But that may already be putting him on the wrong foot with Republicans, who said the proposal is actually a redux of a Carter administration policy and is unlikely to help much in spurring new hiring or investment.

Republicans also were taking umbrage at Mr. Obama’s attack on the Supreme Court, which last week ruled free-speech protections apply to corporations’ and unions’ political ad spending. Mr. Obama warned the ruling would “open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections,” and he called for Congress to curb the court ruling.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., one of the majority justices in the 5-4 decision, who was sitting on the House floor in front of Mr. Obama, was visibly angered by the attack, and shook his head and appeared to be muttering.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, continued the attack on the Senate floor Thursday, saying it was the first time in more than three decades in the Senate that he was compelled to use a floor speech to denounce a ruling.

The attacks, particularly those from Mr. Obama, outraged Republicans.

Sen Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, called it “rude,” and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said the president was “completely wrong” in saying foreigners could meddle in U.S. elections. He pointed to both law and Federal Election Commission regulations he said remain intact to ban that sort of activity.

The White House said the court should have dealt specifically with the issue in its ruling, and spokesman Bill Burton said Justice Alito’s reaction is a reminder that in American democracy “powerful members of the government at high levels can disagree in public and in private. This is one of those cases.”

With polls showing neither party held in high esteem by voters, the pressure will be on both sides to try to find some common ground. A key test will be on jobs, which all sides now agree should be the near-term priority for Congress.

The list of specifics Mr. Obama laid out Wednesday night, though, didn’t seem to find many legislative sweet spots.

Mr. McConnell had only a short list of potential areas of cooperation when he took to the Senate floor Thursday: energy production in the U.S. and free-trade agreements.

Democrats said Mr. Obama’s invitation is genuine, and said there are issues on which bipartisanship can happen.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said he’s working on an immigration-overhaul that will have two Republican and two Democratic sponsors.

Mr. Obama, speaking in Florida, said he still wants to hear the GOP’s ideas on the meat of his agenda, such as health care.

“On every one of these issues, my door remains open to good ideas from both parties. I want the Republicans off the sidelines,” he said.

He did not repeat the pointed barbs he tossed at Republicans a day earlier, which included chiding them for their economic and spending record under President George W. Bush and for fighting his own agenda by “just saying no to everything.”

Republicans seemed to revel in their role as Mr. Obama’s foil.

When Mr. Obama challenged “those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change,” Rep. Joe L. Barton of Texas, the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, stood up as if to make certain he was counted among those.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, stood up and waved when Mr. Obama asked for ideas on health care - and in a press release Thursday, said the plan he handed to the president at a meeting would meet Mr. Obama’s goals of reducing premiums, covering the uninsured, stopping insurance company abuses and bringing down the deficit.

Mr. Obama on Wednesday also seemed to fan the flames of House-Senate tensions, which have been simmering as House Democrats say their best work is getting bottled up in the slow-moving Senate.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said he didn’t take umbrage when the president prodded the Senate to act.

“This may surprise you, but I have taken a few swings at the Senate myself. It’s a body that is difficult to understand everything that goes on,” he said, adding that the president’s chiding “didn’t trouble me at all.”

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