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.

{mosads}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 Ryan (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 McConnell (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 McCain (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 Flake (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 Portman (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 Sewell (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.

Tags Jeff Flake John McCain Mitch McConnell Paul Ryan Rob Portman State of the Union Terri Sewell

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