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Obama Emphasizes Bipartisanship: Dems And GOP Unite In Displeasure

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President Barack Obama pledged on Wednesday night to push forward with the agenda he set in place upon entering office, declaring to a packed House chamber: "I don't quit."

But the fighting spirit that infused his first State of the Union address gave rise to the question of whether the president can find a political strategy that will fulfill his rhetoric.

And at the same time, his continued emphasis on bipartisanship worried Democrats, while failing to appease Republicans.

Some Democrats expressed concerns Wednesday night that he had failed to learn one of the key lessons from this first year in office: that efforts to find bipartisan consensus invariably lead to watered-down legislation that still doesn't get the GOP votes.

"It is fine if he wants to meet with Republicans once a week, but I hope he doesn't think those meetings will produce anything," Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster who worked on the losing side of the recent Massachusetts Senate race told the Huffington Post. "I hope he understand that bipartisanship won't work and it won't produce the results he wants.

"Voters do hunger for that bipartisanship tone,' Lake added. "I just hope [Obama] doesn't believe it himself."

Obama did take some shots at the other side of the aisle, at one time scolding Republicans for skirting their "responsibility to govern." But the thrust of his address was that the parties should find common ground, albeit on his turf. This included both health care -- "if anyone from either party has a better approach... let me know" -- and climate change legislation -- "I am eager to help advance the bipartisan effort in the Senate."

In an interview with the Huffington Post shortly after Obama finished his speech, White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton echoed the call to bipartisanship. "I assume that anybody who had an up close view of the election in Massachusetts could very plainly see that what the American people are looking for is for Washington to make progress," Burton said. "That is not about the right or left. It is about getting things done."

But Obama's speech was greeted with, if anything, unusually fierce partisan rancor from Republicans. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the man in charge of the GOP Senate campaign operations, said he wasn't buying some of the olive-branch policy provisions the president was putting forward.

"It's a pretty transparent argument to say you're going to freeze discretionary spending, which is 17 percent of federal spending, but yet you're going to use the TARP as a slush fund for other projects and an expansion of government," Cornyn said. "So I think it's a hard thing to see how he's going to make it hang together."

A reporter pressed him on his skepticism. "Senator, there's a lot to like in this speech, it seems, for Republicans," he said.

"There is? Ha! Tax cuts? Ha ha!"

"Well, yeah," said the reporter. "And capital gains, nuclear power, offshore drilling."

Cornyn conceded some ground. "Yeah, I stood up and applauded for each of those," he said. But, he said, he wants follow through. And from there he whacked away at the administration's closed-door healthcare deals.

"The biggest challenge that the president has is not what he says or how he says it, it's whether he's actually going to do what he says," he said. "That's the biggest problem I think he's had -- pledges of transparency when you have health care bills negotiated behind closed doors with drug companies and others."

Sen Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), the second most powerful Republican in the Senate, was just as blunt and brutal. "It was a campaign speech," he said. "I thought it was a very partisan speech. He did not help himself with Republicans tonight. You do not bash the opposition and then encourage them to work with you."

How, specifically, did he bash?

"Every third paragraph was complaining about the mess that George Bush got him in. He didn't mention the words George Bush but he didn't have to," said Kyl. "After more than a year, take ownership of the problems you have. You campaigned for president to solve these problems so stop complaining about the mess that you inherited. That was okay for a few weeks or a few months, but after awhile it gets a little tiresome."

Kyl went on to complain about "thinly veiled suggestions that all Republicans do is say 'no,' that we have to stop saying 'no' to everything. That's not the way to encourage productive cooperation with the other side."

Was he offended by the shot at skeptic of the science behind climate change?

"Well, he probably meant it as such, but frankly I didn't receive it as such, since I'm one of the skeptics," he said.

Anything else?

"He started out talking about the constitutional requirement to report on the state of the union and in the very first part of the speech he did. And then he veered off of it and got into this big campaign mantra, which just isn't done. I know this is his first one, but still, it shouldn't be so much about him, and how he didn't come here to do this and he didn't come here to do that and he's going to fight on and so on. It's not about that. It's about the American people and how you're going to react to what they've been telling you -- or trying to tell you -- about what they'd like to see done."

In the end, the White House likely finds this landscape advantageous. While Republicans accuse the president of partisan posturing, and Democrats demand he go further, Obama reaps the benefits of appearing above the fray. And while such a position has, to this point, produced neither the change in political climate nor the legislative results that the president promised, not all Democratic strategists are ready to change tactics.

"I don't think it behooves the president to say, 'I am going to take it to the Republicans.' I think it is better for him to put those proposals out there and make them decide whether they will be with him on all these commons sense things or say no," said Joe Trippi, a longtime party strategist. "Republicans are going to have a lot more problems opposing taxes on the banks or financial regulatory reform then they did with a big health care bill where it was easy to pick pieces off and demonize them."

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