Opinion: President Obama and the GOP trade barbs at the State of the Union address


If there were a zinger scorecard at President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday, it would be Obama 2, congressional Republicans 1.

The president mixed into his customary lofty rhetoric with a combative recap of his policies’ effect on the economy (nothing but net, in his view), a lengthy shout-out to his current agenda (e.g., tuition-free community college and equal pay for women) and a handful of blunt smackdowns of congressional Republicans.

Without calling them out by name or party affiliation, he blasted Republicans for the fiscal brinkmanship and government shutdowns that rocked the economy in 2011 and 2014. He also pledged to veto any attempt to roll back Obamacare, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law, clean energy projects, climate-change regulations or his executive actions on immigration. He made the same threat against any effort to impose stiffer sanctions on Iran. Republicans are expected to propose all of these steps, although it’s not clear which, if any, could advance past a Democratic filibuster in the Senate.


His first zinger came when he referred obliquely to the controversy of the Keystone XL pipeline. The GOP is expected to make a bill approving the pipeline the first one to reach Obama’s desk this year.

Obama backed into the topic, saying that Democrats and Republicans used to agree on the importance of building “modern ports, stronger bridges, faster trains and the fastest Internet.” He then added, “So let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline,” drawing laughter and applause from Democrats in the chamber. “Let’s pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan that could create more than 30 times as many jobs per year, and make this country stronger for decades to come.”

[In the official GOP response to Obama’s speech, freshman Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) referred to the pipeline legislation as the “Keystone jobs bill” and noted that it has support from some congressional Democrats too. “President Obama will soon have a decision to make: will he sign the bill, or block good American jobs?” Ernst said.]

Republicans scored a point late in the speech, as Obama was holding forth at length on the need for “better politics” with less demonization and more thoughtful debate. Just before he pledged to seek out GOP ideas and work more closely with them, Obama said, “I have no more campaigns to run,” drawing an unexpected round of applause from the Republican side of the chamber.

Obama retorted, “I know because I won both of them.” Oh, snap!

The rest of the speech passed with no further trash talking.

Follow Healey’s intermittent Twitter feed: @jcahealey