Obama gets cool response from Republicans, even some Dems

President Obama received a subdued response from Republicans Thursday night when he unveiled a $447 billion stimulus plan to a joint session of Congress.

Democratic lawmakers in the chamber warmed up to the president’s speech as it rolled on but Obama did not get the same boisterous response from his party as at past State of the Union addresses.

Democratic leaders including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) and Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn (S.C.) refused to clap when Obama called on Congress to approve trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea, which elicited raucous applause from Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) stood reluctantly and belatedly clapped his rolled-up copy of the speech when the president called for cutting the growth of Medicare.

He later praised the speech in a statement and said it would challenge Republicans to get serious about creating jobs.

“This package of common-sense, bipartisan proposals will present a litmus test to Republicans. I hope they will show the American people that they are more interested in creating jobs than defeating President Obama,” Reid said.

Pelosi praised Obama for stating “with great clarity his commitment to grow our economy and create jobs.”

“Republicans have a choice to either work with Democrats on the immediate need to create jobs or waste more time when American families are demanding action,” she said.

Several rank-and-file House Democrats, including Reps. Ted Deutch (Fla.) and Peter DeFazio (Ore.), balked at Obama’s idea to extend and expand the payroll tax holiday, which the White House estimates would give a $1,500 tax break to the typical working family.

"It's imperative that we do everything we can to put money in the pockets of consumers," Deutch said. "But there are a lot of ways to do it that doesn't take from the funding stream for Social Security."

Republicans stood rarely to applaud the president. The lone exception was Sen. Scott Brown (R), who is facing a tough reelection in the blue state of Massachusetts. Brown stood with Democrats to applaud Obama’s proposal to help more people refinance their mortgages, while his Republican colleagues stayed glued to their seats.

But Brown afterward said he did not hear much new in the speech.

“A lot of these things I’ve been working on since I’ve been out here, it’s nothing new,” Brown said.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) made an effort to sound cooperative, declining to criticize Obama in a break from recent habit.

“The proposals the president outlined tonight merit consideration. We hope he gives serious consideration to our ideas as well,” Boehner said in a statement. “It’s my hope that we can work together to end the uncertainty facing families and small businesses, and create a better environment for long-term economic growth and private-sector job creation.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) took a tougher line against what some Republicans viewed as a political ultimatum from the president.

“There’s plenty in the speech that provides us the opportunity to begin to work together on,” Cantor told reporters. “What I did take exception to is the all or nothing approach that the president’s message was about. I don’t think that’s the proper approach right now given where we’ve been."

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) objected to additional government spending, even if though its cost would be offset.

“A debate that was forced upon us by the historic run-up in debt that's occurred over the past two and a half years as a result of this President's unprecedented spending,” McConnell said. “Yet here we are, tonight, being asked by this same president to support even more government spending with the assurance that he'll figure out a way to pay for it later."

Some of the strongest pushback came from Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), co-chairman of the deficit-reduction supercommittee, who objected to Obama’s request for Congress to come up with additional savings to pay for his jobs plan.

“By asking the Joint Select Committee to increase the $1.5 trillion target to cover the full cost of his plan, the president is essentially tasking a committee designed to reduce the deficit to pay for yet another round of stimulus,” Hensarling said in a statement after the president’s speech to Congress.

Democrats reacted most enthusiastically to Obama’s proposal to invest in the nation’s transportation infrastructure and help homeowners refinance their mortgages.

They erupted in some of the strongest applause of the night when Obama defiantly vowed to protect collective bargaining rights and environmental protections.

Republicans gave loud standing ovations to Obama’s call to reform Medicare and Medicaid and pass the trade deals. But they responded with derisive laughter when he claimed his push to end tax breaks for oil companies and millionaires is not political grandstanding or class warfare.

Republicans also clapped loudly in an ironically-tinged response to Obama’s simplified characterization of their ideology.

Reps. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) stood to applaud heartily after Obama said: “Some of you sincerely believe that the only solution to our economic challenges is to simply cut most government spending and eliminate government regulations.”

Despite broad political differences, the president’s personal magnetism touched even a few of his toughest critics.

After the speech, Obama headed straight for the Republican side of the aisle to shake hands with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the chief investigator of his administration, and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a Tea-Party favorite.

“He said, ‘Good to see you Rand,’” Paul recounted. “He’s a nice guy. There’s no reason we can’t have more cordial relations.”

But Paul said he wasn’t moved by Obama’s speech. He felt like he was sitting at a campaign rally.

Obama also made a point of shaking hands with the Senate Republican leadership, drawing a laugh even from the normally poker-faced McConnell.

Obama pointed to his watch as approached the GOP leaders, a gesture implying it’s time for them to pass his jobs bill.

Yet, Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), who was standing next to McConnell, thought the president was alluding to the evening’s Packers-Saints football game.  

“I’m sure he was saying, ‘Look, I’m done before the football game,’” Alexander said. 

Just as at past State of the Union speeches, Democratic lawmakers crowded the aisle to get a chance to shake Obama’s hand.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus appeared most enthusiastic about the president’s appearance.

After Obama finished his remarks, declaring, “We are tougher than the times that we live in, and we are bigger than our politics have been,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) let out a yell and raised her clenched fist toward the Speaker’s dais. 

Russell Berman and Mike Lillis contributed to this report.