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State of the Union Speech: Response from Congress


President Bush's fifth State of the Union message was similar to his previous ones in many ways. There were guests of honor in the galleries and moments of partisan and bipartisan cheering from members of Congress. Afterwards, there was a traditional mob scene outside the chamber, as lawmakers and reporters sought each other's company in response to the speech. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR reporting:

After the State of the Union speech, Statuary Hall, the original meeting place for the House of Representatives, becomes a crowded marketplace. Reporters, their microphones and notebooks in hand, pursue lawmakers who are often juggling interviews with their hometown outlets, on cellphones, while waiting in line for TV interviews. Last night, the scene was particularly frenzied, perhaps because this is an election year. That same circumstance led many lawmakers to believe there will be little appetite to take on even the scaled back agenda the president outlined in his speech.

For instance, Republican Congressman Clay Shaw of Florida liked the president's call for a bipartisan commission to look at the problem of social security. But at the same time, Shaw couldn't hide his skepticism.

Congressman CLAY SHAW (Republican, Florida): God bless him if it will work. I'm all for it, but I don't know that anything is going to really work, at least until after this next election.

NAYLOR: Republican Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, a Social Conservative, applauded the president for bringing up such issues as a ban on human cloning. Though there were a few specifics Brownback generally liked what he heard.

Senator SAM BROWNBACK (Republican, Kansas): What I thought you saw though from him was a clear game plan, instead of this broad visionary type speech, which serves a lot of vision, but I thought you saw more of just a series of game plans of here's what we need to do to deal with pressing topics of the day. It was really the business of government it seemed like to me that he outlined and discussed.

NAYLOR: Democrats also praised the president for at least one issue, raising the idea of reducing the nation's dependence on imported oil. Democratic Senator Carl Levin from Michigan, where the declining fortunes of the auto industry have led to double digit unemployment rates, found reason for some optimism.

Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Michigan): I heard the beginnings of a glimmer of a vision for American manufacturing, an acknowledgement that we ought to get to an economy which is based less on imported oil. But the resources then follow the rhetoric there. The resources that need to be there, it's got to be an Apollo-like program.

NAYLOR: But Levin was critical of the president's comments on Iraq, saying Mr. Bush failed to address Iraq's inability to create an inclusive government.

Senator LEVIN: The president basically is on a state of course, we're with them as long as they need us, kind of an approach, which is the wrong message to the Iraqis.

NAYLOR: The second ranking Democrat in the House, Steny Hoyer of Maryland, was also critical of the president, saying he laid out ambitious goals but left out a crucial detail.

Congressman STENY HOYER (Democrat, Maryland): We didn't hear a word of how he's going to pay for any of these initiatives. He wants to help New Orleans; he wants to confront AIDS; he wants to support freedom; he wants to have more teachers; he wants to have energy independence; a lot of other things he said. Not one word of how we pay for it.

NAYLOR: While those details will be in the president's budget next week, it will ultimately be up to the Republican majority in Congress to decide what to fund, decisions that will be made with the November election in mind.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.