02/13/2013 08:37 pm ET Updated Feb 14, 2013

State Of The Union: Republicans Praise Obama On Energy, Immigration

WASHINGTON -- Despite Republican criticism of President Barack Obama's State of the Union address, some GOP lawmakers offered rare praise for some aspects of the president's speech, including his emphasis on energy independence and the need for comprehensive immigration reform.

"When I hear him talk about the big idea of energy independence, I get excited about that," said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas). "I'm not sure he's really talking about it -- I hope he is -- but we now know we can be energy independent, and the key to doing that right now would be natural gas."

Obama on Tuesday repeatedly underscored his commitment to achieving energy independence. He stated his administration's support for "cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits."

"I get excited when he says, look, we can open up federal lands and leases and take a part of that money to help us work on other energy," Gohmert said. "Well, I'm for that. I would be willing to agree to that."

Obama's mention of accelerated permitting was one of a few items Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said he liked, adding that Republicans should be able to support such a proposal. The Senate Republican Conference chairman was also seen nodding in agreement when the president called on Congress to pass two key trade agreements, including the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership and a new deal with the European Union.

"I think that's something we're all for, and we believe that the trade agreements that we've entered into in the last few years are very good and create a lot of jobs," Thune said.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who has seldom agreed with the president, had a surprisingly positive reaction to Obama's comments on immigration. The former GOP vice presidential nominee, who criticized the president for failing to act on immigration reform while on the campaign trail last year, told CNN he found Obama's words "measured."

"I think the tone and the words he took were productive on that front," Ryan added.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of the senators behind a bipartisan immigration reform framework, said he would "absolutely" get behind the president's demands.

Other Republicans said they were pleased that Obama openly called for entitlement and tax reform -- even though they continue to disagree with the White House and Democrats in their approach to fiscal policy. At least for now, Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said they appreciated that the president talked about reforms to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, and simplifying the tax code.

"Hope springs eternal," Portman said. "The president for the first time tonight said that he believed that entitlement reform and tax reform needed to be done and that it wouldn't be easy. I think that's the kind of message you're looking for from the president of the United States, to tell the American people that these things have to be done, they're going to require some tough political choices, but we need to do it in order to grow the economy, in order to deal with the debt and deficit."

Ayotte said the devil is in the details, but she found it "positive" that Obama talked about reforming Medicare.

"It's a big driver of our spending, and we need to reform that in any fiscal plan," Ayotte told The Huffington Post.

But for some Republicans, there remains a sharp difference between espousing bipartisan principles and actually introducing fiscal proposals that could bring both sides together. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said he's seen it all before, likening the president to a "broken record."

"President Obama says all the right things ... he talks about economic growth, it's all about middle-class Americans, which I agree with, but he doesn't have a clue how to really grow the economy," Johnson said. "He's got good rhetoric. He just doesn't have the policies to back up the rhetoric."

--Amanda Terkel and Mike McAuliff contributed reporting.



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