POLITICS
01/29/2014 12:42 pm ET Updated Jan 29, 2014

Republicans Left State Of The Union Speech As If They'd Just Seen 'Gigli'

WASHINGTON -- Republicans may have been expecting a liberal horror flick when they showed up for the State of the Union address Tuesday night, but they left describing something more like an inexplicable, even less-successful "Gigli."

"All in all, I thought the speech was relatively tepid," said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who had to work hard to muster his usual outrage at the deeds of President Barack Obama. "It didn't soar to new heights. It didn't challenge America or Americans. It didn't lay out a destiny for us. It more or less said, functionally, 'Here's what I'm going to do.'"

"I will say that I thought it was one of his flatter speeches that he gave," said Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.). "He always kind of has that ability to get even Republicans to go, 'Rah rah!" I didn't feel that, really."

Many Republicans, like King, had been primed to slam Obama for executive over-reach after having been told of the president's intention to use his pen to make 2014 a "year of action." And King and some others did find occasion to voice such objections: "He believes he has more power than the Constitution allows him," said Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), for instance.

But Terry and others said they really only heard Obama threaten one thing.

"He was very careful in his speech, because the only part where he really said he would use the pen was on a federal minimum wage for federal workers that would be under the executive branch," Terry said with an affable smile, referring to Obama's plan to make federal contractors pay at least $10.10 an hour. "So I think it's constitutional. The only criticism or context I would say is I don't know any federal workers getting under $10 an hour."

"The call to action and the year of action was more about Congress than I expected," said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). "I was expecting he was going to talk about going around Congress as he and his people have said the last few weeks."

Bachmann's harshest criticism seemed to be that Obama resorted to what she felt were tired, old cliches that she believes no longer merit attention, such as equal pay for women.

"Frankly, a lot of what we heard were 40-year-old prescriptions and 40-year-old bromides," Bachmann said. "I mean really, equal pay for equal work? I mean, this was something in the 1970s people were talking about."

Some Republicans found Obama's plotline downright confusing.

"He really focused a lot on speaking to Congress, which I thought was interesting," said Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who was pleased by much in Obama's talk, even if he didn't buy the reasoning. "Halfway through the speech, he shifts from 'the American people are strong, resilient, innovative entrepreneurs,' and then he basically said, 'But they need the federal government to step in and do all these different programs or we're not going to succeed as a nation.' It was just a weird dichotomy to me."

Others came away unsure of what Obama was trying to accomplish.

"I thought that it was ambivalent," said Portman, noting that Obama included plenty of partisan chestnuts, but also plenty for Republicans, such as the talk about free trade, energy development and tax reform, which Lankford also liked. "It was part a very political speech, sort of a rousing partisan speech, and in part trying to reach out to Republicans. It's the first time I've seen such an ambivalence in a speech like that," Portman said.

Obama's harshest critics almost seemed to be let down by the address.

"It's not surprising to me that the president intends to act unilaterally and without legal authority in most cases. He's been doing that for five years," said Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). "The only surprising thing was he might think that he hasn't acted unilaterally enough."

King in particular noted the speech lacked that special pop.

"You'd think his speech writers would realize that," King said. "I read through the speech before he gave it, and I'm looking for the applause lines and where's there going to be any excitement, what's going to be the thundering, foot-stomping Democrat applause, and I didn't find it."

"Maybe the president is starting to settle down a little bit in his role," King said.

The one item that just about every Republican hailed: Obama's salute to wounded Army Ranger Sgt. Cory Remsburg, who sat with first lady Michelle Obama in the gallery.

"You could almost say, satirically, the end was the best, but this time it really was the most emotional," said Terry.

Jennifer Bendery contributed reporting.

Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.

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