ABC’s Michael Falcone and Amy Walter report:
Always memorable events, Tuesday night’s State of the Union address was no exception. President Barack Obama spoke for just over an hour, delivering what he said amounted to a game plan for “winning the future.” Republicans countered with a response delivered by Rep. Paul Ryan, who acknowledged that while some of the president’s “words were reassuring,” without a major course correction, the “next generation will inherit a stagnant economy and a diminished country.”
From the speech, itself, to the seating charts to social media, here are the Note’s top five State of the Union takeaways:
1. Triangulator-In-Chief. President Obama seemed to be channeling Bill Clinton last night. He made sure that there was something for everyone in the speech.
For example, he applauded the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which is paving the way for gays to serve openly in the military, but he also calling on colleges and universities to allow ROTC back on their campuses. He urged greater investments in infrastructure, but he also said we should lower the corporate tax rate. Obama said we should get rid of the “bookkeeping burden” in health care law, but he refused to compromise on allowing insurance companies to go back to denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions.
In much the same way, President Clinton used the strategy of “triangulation” to successfully navigate a politically divided Washington during his presidency. As former Clinton adviser William Glaston, now a fellow at the Brookings Institution, pointed out, “President Obama argued, the main drivers of economic change are technology and globalization and (he implied) not trade or corporate misconduct. This is the narrative favored by mainstream liberals and mainstream conservatives, and also by corporate leaders, but not by populists of either the left or the right. It is a narrative, not of anger and resentment, but of optimism and hope.”
Obama on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell":
2. The ‘Move On’ Strategy. President Obama spent much of the first two years of his presidency fighting a battle for health care reform. He expended considerable political capital to push a bill through Congress, but its passage and implementation has been fraught with risks and consequences.
Republicans capitalized on opposition to the new health law in their successful victories during last November’s midterm elections, and they have been trying to dismantle the law in Congress. For his part, Obama acknowledged in his speech last night that “anything can be improved.” He added that if Republicans or Democrats have “ideas about how to improve this law by making care better or more affordable, I am eager to work with you.”
But the president also indicated that he was unwilling to spend the second-half of his term rehashing the same debates: “Instead of re-fighting the battles of the last two years, let’s fix what needs fixing and let’s move forward.”
And some new poll numbers appear suggest that there is some wisdom in this approach. While 55 percent of Americans view the health care law unfavorable, according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public health, only 33 percent said they want to defund the legislation, as Republicans in Congress do.
Obama on health care:
3. Mixing Things Up. State of the Union night turned into a Capitol Hill version of prom night this year as Democratic and Republican lawmakers scrambled to find appropriate partners for the new bi-partisan seating arrangement. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., made a nice couple. So did Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.
Some, however, refused to take up the suggestion first made by Democratic Sen. Mark Udall for members of both parties to intermingle rather than sequester themselves on opposite sides of the aisle. One of those was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who dismissed the idea, saying a day before the State of the Union that the seating chart “will mean absolutely nothing in the end.”
But not everyone agreed, including members of McConnell’s own party, who praised the new arrangement. “It was a much different feeling,” in the chamber Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” on Wednesday. McCain said he hoped it will stick. “I think that there’s a different atmosphere here,” he said. “With every tragedy comes something good and obviously the tragedy of Tucson and Gabrielle Giffords has brought about a certain change in the atmosphere.”
ABC's Jonathan Karl and Jake tapper on efforts at bi-partisanship:
4. Who’s Response Is It Anyway? Talk about stealing a colleague’s thunder. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., seized the spotlight from the official Republican response-giver Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., last night when she delivered what was billed as the Tea Party rebuttal to the State of the Union.
Both Ryan and Bachmann sounded similar themes. “No economy can sustain such high levels of debt and taxation,” Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee and a rising star in the GOP, said. “President Obama made promises, just like the ones we heard him make this evening, yet still we have high unemployment, devalued housing prices and the cost of gasoline is skyrocketing,” Bachmann said in her response, which she delivered on behalf of the Tea Party Express.
Beyond subtle differences in delivery and tone, however, Ryan and Bachmann’s responses were a lot alike. So was all the hubbub surrounding the dueling remarks really warranted? Probably not.
What is clear is that there is really so such thing an “official” response anymore. After all, Sen. Marco Rubio issued his own take on the president’s speech in a You Tube video, almost every member of Congress released a statement on the speech and several members were tweeting before, during and after the president spoke. And if you’re looking for President Obama’s harshest critic in Congress last night, look no further than Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga. “Mr. President, you don't believe in the Constitution. You believe in socialism,” he tweeted at one point during Obama’s speech.
Rep. Paul Ryan's response:
5. Laugh Lines. Though last night’s State of the Union was largely a serious affair, President Obama tried his hand at humor to drive home a few of points. By far the most memorable, and arguably the funniest, was a line he used to note his administration’s effort to cut out waste and inefficiencies in government.
“There are 12 different agencies that deal with exports. There are at least five different agencies that deal with housing policy,” Obama said. “Then there’s my favorite example: The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they’re in saltwater. I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked.”
Even the president couldn’t help pausing for a moment to laugh at his own joke. It seemed to go over fairly well in the chamber. Who doesn’t support a leaner, meaner, more responsive federal government?
Obama found another laugh line in the recent controversy over enhanced airport security procedures. This one was in service of his goal expand the country’s high speed rail networks and eventually serve 80 percent of Americans. “This could allow you to go places in half the time it takes to travel by car. For some trips, it will be faster than flying — without the pat-down.”
And his health care one-liner: “Now, I have heard rumors that a few of you still have concerns about our new health care law.”
Obama on salmon: