Republican lawmakers from Tennessee spent more time in their seats than their Democratic colleagues Tuesday night as they attended President Barack Obama's State of the Union address.
The speech, delivered to a joint session of Congress, found Obama at the onset of his second term, challenging lawmakers to "finish the job" and follow through on his policy goals regarding the nation's economic recovery, gun laws, immigration and continuing war.
"The American people don't expect government to solve every problem," Obama said at the beginning of his remarks. "They don't expect those of us in this chamber to agree on every issue. But they do expect us to put the nation's interests before party. They do expect us to forge reasonable compromise where we can."
For congressmen representing districts in the greater Chattanooga area, Obama's remarks were interpreted as little more than a ruse.
Minutes following the address, Rep. Chuck Fleischmann told Nooga.com he thought the president's speech was lacking.
"I'm disappointed," Fleischmann said in a phone interview from Capitol Hill. "I was hoping for more. This is the third State of the Union I've heard from this president, and I was just hoping for more."
Fleischmann quickly jumped on the president's comments regarding automatic spending cuts set to go into effect next month, known as the sequester. In his speech, Obama called on Congress to prevent the sequester from being implemented, reminding them it was approved as a part of the 2011 Budget Control Act to raise the debt ceiling—a measure that Fleischmann did not vote to support.
"It's unfair and disingenuous for [Obama] to disavow something he supported," Fleischmann said, referencing the president's signing of the bill into law and reports stating that the idea for sequestration originated within his administration. "It's the same old song from the president, tax and spend. It divides the American people."
For Rep. Scott DesJarlais, Obama's address was déjà vu.
"Same speech, different year," he said in a phone interview from his Washington, D.C., office. "High on rhetoric, low on solutions."
Regarding Obama's calls for a "balanced approach to deficit reduction," DesJarlais, who also voted in opposition to the Budget Control Act of 2011, said the comments carried little weight. The congressman decried the ongoing inability of Congress and the president to approve a budget, most recently highlighted following last week's passage of a federally mandated budget deadline.
"I think he has zero credibility on the debt and on the deficit," DesJarlais said. "I don't hold high hopes. If we're really going to get a balanced budget, he needs to show us when his plan would balance, and I don't think that he would be able to do that."
Both congressmen did not offer any sympathies to Obama's pleas for reforming the nation's gun laws, emphasized by his naming victims of mass shootings that occurred during his presidency.
"They deserve a vote," Obama said.
Fleischmann described the president's calls as a "gimmick."
"I will not allow this president or any member of the House or Senate to try and erode Americans' rightful Second Amendment rights," Fleischmann said. "I think he's desperate and that this is another gimmick on his part to try and persuade the American people."
DesJarlais said that Obama's comments regarding a growing national consensus on stricter gun laws did not reflect the views of constituents he'd spoken with in the 4th Congressional District and added his opinion that a vote on gun laws would not even pass.
"I guess I'm not so afraid of a vote on the floor because I think the House and the Senate would listen to their constituents who know that our Second Amendment rights are very unique to this country," he said. "I don't think anything with harder restrictions would pass, but I do hope we would take a closer look at mental health issues."
Both congressmen said that timing was appropriate for considering the president's calls for comprehensive immigration reform, permitting it would ensure the enforcement of current laws. They also expressed solidarity with his comments supporting the military.
Tennessee's senators, who had earlier expressed desires to see Obama focus comments on the nation's debt and approach to funding of entitlement programs, had little to say once the speech ended. Sen. Lamar Alexander distributed a brief statement to the media, and Sen. Bob Corker offered no official comment at all.
“I’m disappointed because the president missed a golden opportunity to present a serious plan to deal with the most serious problem facing our country—how to preserve Medicare by reducing out-of-control entitlement spending," Alexander said.
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