The Democrat-vs.-Democrat anger roiling the ranks of Congress is being wrapped in smiles and standing ovations Wednesday as President Barack Obama outlines the nation’s top priorities in his first State of the Union speech.
But for most of the Democrats cramming the House chamber, there is no issue more pressing than getting re-elected in November. And it’s not clear that pursuing Obama’s priorities will help them achieve theirs.
In personal and profane terms, House and Senate Democrats have huddled behind closed doors to list the debacles: The stunner in Massachusetts that cost the Democrats a Senate seat. The slow-motion collapse of health care talks. A government bailout of Wall Street while unemployment sits in double-digits.
“It just stinks to the high heaven what happened here,” Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., railed earlier in the day at Obama’s treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner.
He was talking about the bailout, but the statement could well describe the Democrats’ attitude about Obama’s performance and the toll it’s taken on their political standing. And Wednesday night, they were expected to put on a smile and applaud a president and an agenda many have questioned.
Republicans were making a studied effort to stay out of the way and avoid a “You lie” moment that stole the show during Obama’s last address to Congress. The House’s three top Republican leaders Reps. John Boehner of Ohio, Eric Cantor of Virginia and Mike Pence of Indiana all lectured their troops before the address that the president should be treated with respect.
Democrats for days were questioning whether to stand with the president, congressional leaders or neither.
Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., did more than ask. In a private meeting the day after Republican Scott Brown won Sen. Edward Kennedy’s Senate seat, Titus used a profanity to describe to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and freshman lawmakers the Democratic Party’s prospects in the midterm elections if it ignores the lessons of Massachusetts.
Some House Democrats have privately blamed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who faces a tough re-election fight in Nevada, for the party’s woes and the health care bill’s poor prospects.
“We have to wait for the House of Lords to do their contemplating,” said Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y. “We’re also not getting much guidance from the mother ship about what the White House really wants and what they’re prepared to push for.”
The administration has not stayed above the blamefest.
Rep. Marion Berry, D-Ark., who is retiring at the end of the year, said of Obama what some Americans have said all year, “‘You’re trying to do too much too quickly.'”
“Maybe we should listen to them,” Berry said. “If we don’t listen to them, then they will make you listen to them in November.”