The Note: Obama’s Speech Puts GOP In A Corner


President Obama put Republicans in something of a box last night. He oozed optimism, telling Americans in the last moments of his speech that, “From the earliest days of our founding, America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream. That’s how we win the future.”

On the other hand, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., who gave the Republican response and Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who delivered what was billed as the Tea Party rebuttal, both focused on the negative -- crushing deficit, the debt crisis, the ballooning size of government.

“No economy can sustain such high levels of debt and taxation. The next generation will inherit a stagnant economy and a diminished country,” Ryan said, minutes after Obama concluded his remarks in the House of Representatives. “Frankly, it’s one of my greatest concerns as a parent -- and I know many of you feel the same way.”

While Congress doesn’t need to sell “hope” and “optimism” the next president does. Obama knows that.

The president also made sure that there was something for everyone in the speech. He talked about gays serving openly in the military while also calling on colleges and universities to allow ROTC back on their campuses. He urged greater investments in infrastructure, but also a lower corporate tax rate. He said we should get rid of the “bookkeeping burden” in health care law, but refused to compromise on allowing insurance companies to go back to denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions.

Both Republican responses offered many of the same themes -- just with slightly different flavors -- but the message was diluted somewhat by the theatrics of the dueling broadcasts.

“President Obama made promises, just like the ones we heard him make this evening,” Bachmann said, “yet still we have high unemployment, devalued housing prices and the cost of gasoline is skyrocketing.”

While the Bachmann and Ryan responses may have, once again, exposed the fissure between the Republican Party and the Tea Party, they also pointed to a reality of modern politics: nearly every member of Congress now ends up delivering their own reaction to the State of the Union, whether televised, in a written statement, in a You Tube video or on Twitter.

A case-in-point was Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., who emerged as the president’s sharpest Twitter critic last night. “Mr. President, you don't believe in the Constitution. You believe in socialism,” he tweeted at one point during Obama’s speech.

Finally, the new bi-partisan seating chart seemed to get good reviews from both Democrats and Republicans. “It was a much different feeling,” in the chamber Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” today. McCain said he hopes 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.”

BATTLEGROUND WISCONSIN. President Obama will follow up with his State of the Union address last night with a trip to Wisconsin today. As part of his “White House to Main Street Tour” the president will visit three factories that the White House says “have shown that we can win that contest, hiring workers and investing in industries of the future.”

ABC’s Jonathan Karl puts the visit in perspective: “By traveling to Wisconsin today, the President is venturing to the state that most dramatically illustrates the Republican landslide in November – and a state Republicans believe is central to the efforts to win back the White House next year. Wisconsin is a state Barack Obama won by 14 percentage points in 2008. But in November, Republicans captured the governor’s mansion, the state Senate and Assembly, two Congressional seats and trounced Senator Russ Feingold. The former chairman of the Wisconsin Republican party is now the chairman of the RNC and Republicans are already talking about Wisconsin as a top battleground state for 2012.”

SOTU FACT VS. FICTION. A fact-check of the president’s pledges on tax cuts, immigration, education reform, health care, foreign policy and other issues, brought to you by ABC’s Devin Dwyer and Huma Khan. Here’s an excerpt of their assessment of President Obama’s declaration that “Race to the Top is the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation”:

“The president established the Race to the Top program in February 2009, one of his first steps in the education sector as commander-in-chief. The $4.3 billion program was part of the Recovery Act and is designed to reward states that are ‘implementing significant education reforms.’…The program has led to much debate and strife over some schools being left behind in this competitive process, especially in states with strong union presence. Critics also doubt the long-term viability of the plan.”

NOTED: State of the Union Twitter trends: Public education tops the list as the most-tweeted topic of the night.

ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE.” ABC’s Jonathan Karl Anchors and Z. Byron Wolf welcome Arizona Republican Rep. Jeff Flake to get his reaction to the president’s State of the Union address, and in particular, Obama’s pledge that “If a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it.” Earmarks have long been a focus of Flake’s. Also on the program, Major Garrett from National Journal. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern.

GIFFORDS IMPROVING. “Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' doctors upgraded her condition from serious to good late Tuesday night and said she is ready to be transferred to a brain rehabilitation hospital as early as this morning pending a medical review,” ABC News’ Bob Woodruff, Lana Zak and Bradley Blackburn report. “The fluid accumulation in her brain that concerned doctors over the weekend has already begun to subside. A tentative news conference has been scheduled for later this afternoon where her medical team will give an update on her progress, according to a news release from Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, the hospital where Giffords is currently recovering.”


REPEAL REDUX. “On Wednesday, Republicans begin the potentially risky strategy of dismantling the health care reform law piece by piece,” Politico’s Jennifer Haberkorn reports. “Two House committees will start their dissection of the law, examining its cost and its impact on the economy. Republicans in both chambers also plan to introduce dozens of bills this week aimed at rolling back various parts of the reform law. But a new poll suggests that the strategy might not go over well with the public, even though opposition to the health care reform law is at a record high. Fifty percent of Americans have unfavorable views of the law, according to a joint survey by The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health. Opposition to the law jumped 9 percentage points from last month and is the highest since April, when Kaiser began surveying the question every month.”

THE COORDINATION GAME. “Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are facing more pressure than ever to unify their Conferences against Congressional Democrats and the White House on fiscal responsibility and spending priorities,” Roll Call’s David Drucker reports. “The two leaders rarely differ on policy. Still, their relationship will be put to the test in the 112th Congress now that Republicans control the House and President Barack Obama has signaled a shift to the center and a fresh focus on fiscal discipline. Both Boehner and McConnell will need to embrace a new level of coordination as they look to convince their diverse caucuses to follow their lead. … Several Republicans said they are looking to McConnell and Boehner to plot the party’s strategy to combat Obama and the Democrats.”

WEBB PLAYS IT COOL. “If Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) feels any added urgency to decide on his reelection plans now that former Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) is officially in the race for his seat, he isn't showing it,” The Hill’s Shane D’Aprile notes. “Asked about Allen's bid Tuesday, Webb said, ‘Today's no different than yesterday for me.’ Allen is already slamming Webb for voting with "the Washington liberals like Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer," but Webb wouldn't engage him Tuesday. ‘I have no comment on what George Allen is doing,’ Webb said on a conference call with reporters. ‘That's up to him.’”

MEANWHILE, IN CHICAGO. “With Chicago election officials printing mayoral ballots that include Rahm Emanuel's name, it's up to the Illinois Supreme Court to decide whether voters will actually see him among their choices during next month's election,” according to a dispatch from the Associated Press. “The state's highest court agreed Tuesday to decide whether Emanuel can run for mayor, and the justices ordered election officials not to print any ballots without his name until they can rule. The action bought valuable time for the former White House chief of staff, who a day earlier was kicked off the ballot by an appeals court because he didn't live in the city for a year before the Feb. 22 election. The state Supreme Court said it would expedite the matter but gave no specific time frame. With less than a week to go before the first early ballots are cast, a number of potential scenarios loomed, including the possibility that Emanuel would have to resort to a write-in campaign or wage a desperate bid to take the matter to federal court.”


@ johnsberman : Don't tell Dana Milbank...@ SarahPalinUSA is going on @ gretawire tonight to talk #sotu.

@ HotlineJosh : RT @ nationaljournal: Klobuchar "had a few disagreements" with her date, Sen. Sessions, "but it ended well."

@ emilycadei : Gallup: Americans favor "cutting U.S. foreign aid, but opposed cuts in eight other budget areas" #easytarget

@ shiratoeplitz : Rep. Steve Israel tells @ politico he started recruitment calls day after election, + "so far, not a single potential recruit" has said no

@ davidfrum : Dont know if GOP should nominate Pawlenty. But RNC should hire his ad team.

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