State of the Union: Top five reactions from inside Statuary Hall
There was plenty of reaction to be had on the airwaves and online following President Obama's State of the Union address last night. But some of the most intriguing responses came from inside Statuary Hall, which sits just outside the House chamber and has traditionally served as the post-State of the Union "spin room." Here's a little of what we learned inside the hall last night:
1. You don't have to watch the speech in the chamber to weigh in on it. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who had been watching Obama's speech on television in his office, arrived in Statuary Hall about 20 minutes before the State of the Union had even wrapped up.
DeFazio said that in his 24 years in Congress, he's only attended three State of the Union addresses -- by Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton as well as Obama's first address to Congress.
"I hate jumping up and down and clapping, so I never go," DeFazio said. "It's no disrespect to this president. I just watch him in my office. I read the speech. I've already read it. I can read faster than he can talk."
DeFazio, who serves as the ranking member on the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, said he was pleased that transportation issues "got a nod" from Obama but was looking for more specifics. "We need a concrete plan to get the investment we need to rebuild our common infrastructure and become more competitive in the world economy," he said.
2. Some members' seating arrangements didn't exactly go according to plan. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) had invited Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) to sit together with the Arizona delegation, but Gosar explained after the State of the Union that once the Arizona members sat down, they realized they didn't have a seat for Cummings.
"We just couldn't get everything; it was musical chairs, and there were just not a lot of spaces," said Gosar, who also spoke earlier Tuesday at a press conference with several other lawmakers promoting the plan for bipartisan seating.
Gosar noted that he talked things over with Cummings and the two ultimately concluded that it was important for members of the Arizona delegation to sit together alongside the empty seat they had planned to reserve in honor of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).
"When you've got lots of people scrambling for such a small, little space, you know, you always try," Gosar said.
3. Bipartisan seating gets positive reviews. Many lawmakers said after the address that they were pleased with how their bipartisan seating arrangements worked out. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who sat next to House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) for the president's address, said that he enjoyed sitting next to his Democratic counterpart and that the bipartisan seating plan sent the right message to Americans.
"Steny and I talk often," he said. "We're able to sit and talk and that's what I think people would look for, the American people, to actually find solutions."
Asked whether the bipartisan seating made the clapping awkward, McCarthy laughed and shook his head, noting that the two joked with each other at times about who was sitting and who was standing.
"It's a bipartisan feel," he said.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who had delivered a speech at the National Cathedral before the midterms urging lawmakers to work together in a more bipartisan way, said that she was pleased with the night's proceedings.
"I thought the tone of the president's speech was encouraging in that he reached out to both Democrats and Republicans to work together," Collins said. She added that it was "interesting" that the shooting in Tucson led members to reconsider the tone of political discourse even though the alleged gunman was a "deranged individual, apparently" and the tragedy "was not related to the political discourse."
"It did have the effect of causing people to think about the level of debate, and I think that's a very positive thing," she said.
4. Less standing can be a good thing. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that he "had a good time" sitting next to Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) during the address and joked that that he was glad members jumped to their feet less often than in previous years.
"We got up a lot of the time together, and sometimes we got up separately, but overall, we didn't get up as much, and that's pretty good," Schumer said.
5. Japan was in the house. Ichiro Fujisaki, the Japanese ambassador to the U.S., was in the chamber for his third address by Obama to Congress. Fujisaki said that Obama "came out very strong on Iran and North Korea" and was "really to the point" on those issues.
But Fujisaki declined to specifically weigh in when asked whether there were things he would have preferred Obama mention in his address. Much of Obama's speech focused on U.S. competitiveness against other countries, particularly China and India, each of which was mentioned by Obama at least four times in his speech. By contrast, Obama made no mention this year of Japan, which he cited by name once in his 2009 address to Congress as a country that has surpassed the U.S. in producing solar technology.
Asked about U.S.-Japan relations on the whole, Fujisaki said that "overall, I think that's on the right track."
| January 26, 2011; 11:53 AM ET
Categories: 44 The Obama Presidency
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