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Republican, Democratic Lawmakers Weigh In On Obama's Speech


OK. It is not clear if Congress and the White House will figure out how to work together but they at least figured out how to eat a buffalo.


After the inauguration, members of Congress welcomed the president to a lunch of bison tenderloin. Afterwards, some told reporters what they thought of the speech. Here's NPR's David Welna.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Some members of Congress played it safe when asked about the president's inaugural. Buck McKeon is the California Republican who chairs the House Armed Services Committee.

REPRESENTATIVE BUCK MCKEON: He's one of the best speechmakers I've heard. You know, I'm not going to critique his speech.

WELNA: McKeon has reason to hold back. He's at odds with his own party because he thinks Republicans should not be using the automatic military and domestic spending cuts, known as the sequester, as leverage to push for entitlement reforms. But other Republicans faulted the president, for their view, showing no sense of urgency about such reforms. Rob Portman is a senator from Ohio.

SENATOR ROB PORTER: If I were to listen to that speech not knowing the condition of our country, I would think that we didn't have a record deficit and debt and that we were able to keep our current programs in place on the entitlement side. Because he talked about that - the importance of those programs - and I think he missed an opportunity.

WELNA: Democrats, on the other hand, felt reassured by the president's defense of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. California Congresswoman Maxine Waters said Mr. Obama needed to show he won't be giving away the store to make peace with the Republicans.

REPRESENTATIVE MAXINE WATERS: And to make sure that whatever the negotiations are, we don't have deep cuts in areas that provide a safety net for the people. So I think he's all right, he's onboard on that.

WELNA: The president's vow to respond to the threat of climate change prompted some of the sharpest reactions from his political adversaries. Senator Chuck Grassley is an Iowa Republican.

SENATOR CHUCK GRASSLEY: His own EPA director a couple of years ago testified before the House that the United States by itself is not going to accomplish the global warming problem. It's going to have to be done on a worldwide basis. And so we ought to be working on an international treaty as opposed to individual legislation for the United States.

WELNA: Other Republicans insisted the jury is still out on whether humans are responsible for climate change. Roger Wicker is a senator from Mississippi.

SENATOR ROGER WICKER: Regardless of what the science shows, can we by enacting policies change what is happening? That's another question that I think we need to have a debate about.

SENATOR MARK BEGICH: I think people who think that you can only be one side or the other live in the past.

WELNA: That's Senator Mark Begich, a Democrat from Alaska. He says the debate should be about how both developing energy and curbing climate change can move forward.

BEGICH: I live in a state that understands oil and gas. I'm a big supporter of it, will continue to be a big supporter of oil and gas, because that is going to be part of our energy picture for years to come. But you can do things around climate change and look at the economic elements of it.

WELNA: One thing Democrats and Republicans could agree on was that it was a day to take a break from all the rancor and let the president have his say. Congressman John Lewis is a Democrat from Georgia, who's a veteran civil rights activist.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN LEWIS: He was saying, yes, we're black and white, Latino, Asian-American, Native American, but we're also, we're gay, we're straight, we're one people, we're one nation. It was a beautiful day.

WELNA: One that Lewis said Dr. Martin Luther King would have been proud of. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.

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