WASHINGTON — In his final State of the Union address to Congress, President Barack Obama sought to recapture the aspirational tone that marked his two campaigns for the presidency.
But his words largely fell on deaf ears among Texas Republicans, and their reactions illustrated the deep partisan divide that remains as Obama’s administration nears its close.
“It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency — that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better,” the president said of the country’s increasing polarization. “I have no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.”
But even before the speech concluded, Republican members of Texas’ congressional delegation pushed out critical tweets and news releases.
U.S. Rep. Bill Flores of Bryan called the address “an unearned victory lap,” while U.S. Rep. Joe Barton of Ennis said it was “short on substance.”
U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant of Coppell dismissed the speech as “campaign-style rhetoric.”
“Who will pay for two years of community college at no cost? The taxpayers,” U.S. Rep. Randy Weber of Friendswood tweeted. “There is no such thing as a free lunch, econ 101.”
But the president’s remarks heartened Texas Democrats.
“I think it was the strongest State of the Union speech of his presidency,” said U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio. “It sought to rise above the partisan rancor that’s characterized Congress, that’s unfortunately bled over into national politics over the last several years.”
Retiring U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa of Edinburg was a bit sentimental over his last State of the Union.
“It’s difficult,” he said. “I’ve grown to like our United States Capitol.”
As per her annual tradition, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston arrived to the House chamber early in the day to secure a prized aisle seat that offered access to the president as he entered the House chamber.
Campaigning for the Republican nomination for president in New Hampshire, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz skipped the speech, saying he did not expect anything new from a president he has frequently attacked.
But the two men managed to exchange words anyway. Obama implicitly criticized Cruz’s promise to “carpet bomb ISIS into oblivion.”
“Our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet-bomb civilians,” Obama said. “That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage,” Obama added.
Cruz responded on NBC after the speech.
“I will apologize to nobody for my commitment to kill the terrorists,” Cruz said. “In this speech, once again President Obama refused to even say the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism,’ much less demonstrate any clarity, any vision, any plan to destroy them.”
But like in most twilight years of a president’s second term, the U.S. Capitol had less energy and excitement than the early years of an administration. The president acknowledged so much, joking about the first in the national caucuses in Iowa.
The biggest question on many minds was, who will be standing at the lectern for future addresses?
“I hope it’s Hillary Clinton,” Castro said. “I’m certainly working to make that possible.”
Patrick Svitek contributed to this report from New Hampshire.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2016/01/12/obama-heartens-party-faithful-while-needling-repub/.