Confident Obama throws punches

President Obama wasn’t about to let last year’s election results damper his second-to-last State of the Union address.

In fact, the president led what appeared to be something of a pep rally during his hourlong speech on Tuesday, bringing Democrats frequently to their feet with plugs for a middle-class agenda and more than a few jabs at Republicans.


For their part, congressional Democrats appeared to be hanging on just about Obama’s every word, most of the party’s lawmakers flipping along with paper copies of the president’s speech and some even jotting down notes along the way.

The House’s top two Democrats, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), leapt to their feet when Obama gave one of his more pointed challenges to Republicans, in effect daring the GOP to keep opposing a hike in the minimum wage.

“If you truly believe you could work full time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it,” Obama said. “If not, vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise.”

Those weren’t the only times Obama called out Republicans. He took a bow on reduced deficits. He cracked a joke about Republicans' tendency to say they're not scientists when discussing climate change.

“I’m not a scientist, either,” the president noted. “But you know what ,  I know a lot of really good scientists.”

Perhaps most notably, the president went off script to stare down Republicans who had applauded the fact that Obama had run his last campaign. “I know because I won both of them,” Obama said.

That confident, even defiant, tone continued after Obama was finished. The president lingered afterward to sign autographs for fellow Democrats, ending by signing a Capitol Hill page’s tie with a marker.

Republicans, especially those who faced off with Obama in 2008 and 2012, weren’t as pleased.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanOn The Money: House GOP struggles to get votes for B in wall funds | Fallout from Oval Office clash | Dems say shutdown would affect 800K workers | House passes 7 billion farm bill GOP struggles to win votes for Trump’s B wall demand House GOP blocks lawmakers from forcing Yemen war votes for rest of year MORE (Wis.), the GOP’s vice presidential nominee in 2012 and a longtime Obama sparring partner, gave the president a perfunctory handshake as Obama entered the House chamber.

Ryan and other top GOP lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP-controlled Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi vote Overnight Defense: Senate moves toward vote on bill ending support for Saudi war | House GOP blocks Yemen war votes for rest of year | Trump throws uncertainty into Pentagon budget | Key Dem to leave transgender troop ban to courts Senate moves toward vote on ending support for Saudi-led war MORE (Ky.), at times didn’t even give polite applause as Democrats stood to cheer, though Ryan did vigorously nod his head as Obama made a push for more trade deals. 

On his way out of the Capitol, Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainIs the Senate still the nation’s conscience? Armed Services chairman bought, dropped defense stock Trump attorney general pick a prolific donor to GOP candidates, groups: report MORE (R-Ariz.) took issue with Obama’s comments that his administration had helped isolate Russia and President Vladimir Putin. “I stood up to Russia,” McCain, deep in conversation, said in a mock Obama voice. 

For other issues, Obama was able to get at least a little Republican support. Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakePence casts tie-breaking vote for Trump appeals court judge Dem: 'Disheartening' that Republicans who 'stepped up' to defend Mueller are leaving Flake: Republican Party ‘is a frog slowly boiling in water’ MORE (R-Ariz.), who was on the plane that brought former Cuban prisoner Alan Gross back to the U.S., stood to applaud when the president noted that Gross was in the House chamber.

But Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanDrug company to offer cheaper opioid overdose treatment after hiking price 600 percent The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by T-Mobile — Congress to act soon to avoid shutdown On The Money: Trump touts China actions day after stock slide | China 'confident' on new trade deal | GM chief meets lawmakers to calm anger over cuts | Huawei CFO arrested MORE (Ohio), one of the first congressional Republicans to support gay marriage, stayed in his seat to applaud when the president called same-sex marriage a “civil right.”

That interplay between Republicans and Democrats came at a State of the Union without the sort of star power it has had in previous years.

Republican lawmakers, for instance, had brought supporters like rocker Ted Nugent and “Duck Dynasty” star Willie Robertson to Obama’s speech in the past.

The president was briefly delayed before his speech as he met in a Capitol room with 105-year-old Amelia Boynton Robinson, the civil rights leader who marched in the 1965 march in Selma known as "Bloody Sunday.”

It was her second time seeing Obama; she met then-candidate Obama during his visit to Alabama in 2007. But she still wept upon seeing him Tuesday night.

"She traveled a very long way and it was totally worth it to see the expression on her face and the tears coming down her face when she met the president," said Rep. Terri SewellTerrycina (Terri) Andrea SewellBlack Caucus chairman pushes back against committee term limits Dems vow quick action to bolster voting rights upon taking power Progressive rep says she’s ‘very disappointed' by Barbara Lee’s loss in bid for Dem caucus chair MORE (D-Ala.), who brought Boynton Robinson to the speech. 

Before arriving in the Capitol, Boynton Robinson visited the office of Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), her longtime friend whom she marched with 50 years ago in Selma. Both Lewis and Boynton Robinson are portrayed in the film “Selma,” which was nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award last week.

"John was in the first line. She was in line four on Bloody Sunday on that bridge when that beating took place," Sewell said. "It is amazing courage."

Scott Wong, Cristina Marcos, Vicki Needham and Cory Bennett contributed.