Senate

Obama snubs McConnell

President Obama made no mention Tuesday night of Sen. Mitch McConnell's recent ascension to majority leader, even though he will likely play a major role in congressional negotiations this year.

Obama made a point of congratulating John Boehner (R-Ohio) for winning the Speaker's gavel at the start of his 2011 State of the Union address, weeks after Republicans ousted Democrats from the House majority.

This year, however, Obama ignored the Republican takeover the Senate - which was fueled by constant attacks on his record, including his administration's handling of the Ebola epidemic and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

"Tonight I want to begin by congratulating the men and women of the 112th Congress, as well as your new speaker, John Boehner," Obama said four years ago when he addressed a joint session of Congress.

While Obama has golfed with Boehner, he hasn't had much of a relationship with McConnell.

He joked two years ago at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner that he couldn't imagine having a beer with the Senate Republican leader, who once declared his top political priority was to limit Obama to one term.

"Some folks still don't think I spend enough time with Congress. ''Why don't you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?' they ask. Really?" Obama deadpanned. "Why don't you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?"

McConnell has since floated the idea of a "bourbon summit" with Obama, but it has yet to happen.

This year, Obama needled Republicans about his own political prowess when they applauded his observation that he had run his last campaign.

"I know because I won both of them," he cracked.

Chastened by the 2010 GOP wave election, which he characterized as a "shellacking," Obama struck a more conciliatory tone in his 2011 address.

He said he was eager to work with the new House GOP majority to improve the Affordable Care Act and proposed reducing the law's bookkeeping burden on small businesses.

He also called for a freeze on annual domestic spending over the next five years and reducing the deficit to its lowest share of the economy since the 1950s.

The president was less ready to acknowledge Republican political dominance after the recent midterm elections, even though Republicans picked up nine Senate seats and swelled their House majority to the largest margin since the Hoover administration.

He only acknowledged they "had a good night."

Instead of pledging to cut domestic spending, this year Obama touted his proposal to spend $60 billion on providing two years of free community college to millions of students. The plan would be funded by raising taxes and fees on the wealthy and big banks.

McConnell expressed disappointment earlier in the day that Obama's speech appeared aimed more at rallying Democrats than reaching out to Republicans.

"Looking at the rollout of what he's likely to talk about tonight, speaking of warmed-over proposals, it all looks like the same old tax and spend that the president's been advocating for the last six years," he said Tuesday afternoon.

Obama on Tuesday night encouraged Republicans to search for common ground in the agenda he laid out.

"If you share the broad vision I outlined tonight, I ask you to join me in the work at hand. If you disagree with parts of it, I hope you'll at least work with me where you do agree," he said.

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