McConnell: Obama speech proof 'era of liberalism is back'

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) responded to President Obama’s “disappointing” second inaugural address by declaring, “The era of liberalism is back.”

One day after the president delivered his inaugural remarks, Republicans from both chambers bashed them as products of the far left and out of touch with the American people.

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McConnell, who is up for reelection next year, called the speech “unabashedly far left of center,” and one that would do more to divide a partisan Washington than bring it together.

“It was basically a liberal agenda directed at an America that we still believe is center-right, and I don’t think that’s a great way to start off the second term if your idea here is to achieve bipartisan solutions,” he said.

McConnell’s “era of liberalism” comment offered an ironic echo of President Clinton’s famous remark in 1996 that “the era of big government is over.”

As Obama prepares for a second term, the Senate’s top Republican accused the president of refusing to come to the center.

McConnell told The Hill in 2010 that he believed the president would become a “born-again moderate” if Republicans made major gains in that fall’s elections.

But two years later, he said Obama remained solidly on the left.

“I thought he would do a Clintonian pivot to the middle in the wake of the November ’10 election. … I was wrong about that,” he told The Hill in July.

With the pomp and circumstance of Inauguration Day less than 24 hours old, partisan politics regained center stage as the two parties yet again began sparring across well-worn battle lines.

On Tuesday, multiple Republicans focused their criticism of the president’s speech on its giving “short shrift” to the issue they say should be dominant: the nation’s deficit and debt.

“We were reminded yesterday that this is a liberal president with a liberal agenda, which is why the words ‘spending’ and ‘debt’ were probably not included in that speech,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the Senate’s No. 3 Republican.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) accused Obama of punting on the nation’s “debt crisis,” citing his defense of entitlement programs.

“He basically said we’re not going to change these programs, we’re not going to reform these programs to prevent this,” Ryan said. “He basically said we will not fix this debt crisis.”

In his address, Obama said the nation must address healthcare costs and the deficit, but not at the expense of the nation’s safety net.

“We reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future,” he said.

McConnell called the nation’s deficit “the transcendent issue of our era,” and blasted the president for failing to address it in wide-ranging remarks.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) dismissed McConnell’s remarks as unproductive.

“We should move past the name-calling phase,” he said.

Reid said he liked the speech a lot, saying it was inspiring to all Americans.

“A liberal speech? I really don’t know what that means,” Reid said.

The president’s second inaugural address was wide-ranging and called for an active role for government. It included calls to address climate change, support gay rights and protect the social safety net, and made reference to immigration reform and new gun-control efforts.


--Erik Wasson contributed.

--This report was originally published at 3:11 p.m. and last updated at 7:50 p.m.