President Obama, pressing ahead with his sweeping domestic agenda, is using one of his favorite tools to try to get Republicans on board: shame.
Rather than dial back his ambitions in the wake of his party's loss last week in the Massachusetts Senate election, the president used his State of the Union address Wednesday night to pressure the GOP into working with Democrats by appealing to their collective conscience.
He spoke of the need to "change the tone" in Washington and, as he has before, urged Republicans to set aside partisan differences for the greater good. He assured Republicans he would open his door to them and hear out their ideas on issues like health care reform, but he did not offer any grand concessions that would appease the rival party on any contentious issue.
"Neither party should delay or obstruct every single bill just because they can," Obama said in his address. "And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that 60 votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town -- a supermajority -- then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it's not leadership."
Republicans responded immediately by saying they've been trying to work with the president all along, but to no avail. Democrats, meanwhile, said the president was dead on.
"They're going to have to either join in or they're going to be exposed for not joining in," veteran Democratic strategist Bob Beckel said, applauding the president for so bluntly addressing Republican stalling tactics. With Republican Scott Brown's win in the Massachusetts Senate election, the GOP will have the 41 votes needed to filibuster just about anything in the Senate.
Democrats say Republicans now have an obligation to participate constructively in the legislative process. "They have to share in the responsibility in governing," Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said after the speech.
But after Obama pledged to listen to GOP ideas on health care and start monthly meetings with Democratic and Republican leaders, Republicans questioned whether relations would be any different than they've been for the past 12 months.
"He knows we have these ideas. He keeps asking us for these ideas. We send him ideas, but we have yet to receive responses from the White House," Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told Fox News. "We've heard that three of four times from the president. ... Hopefully this time he'll return our phone calls."
Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, called on the president to do more to prove he wants to work with the GOP.
"Rather than talking about meeting with the leadership once a month, I would have liked to have heard him say, 'we are going to meet every week -- we need to build up the trust level,'" he said in a written statement. "We should not be concentrating on what divides us."
"I have not had any contact with Obama folks, none. They do not reach out to us at all," the Ohio Republican said.
But Republicans have been mostly unified over the past year in their opposition to Obama's major policy items, on everything from the stimulus package to health care reform to a cap-and-trade energy bill. Obama, clearly shaken by Republicans' ability to disrupt the course of health care reform despite their minority status, acknowledged Wednesday he didn't do enough to explain the package to the public.
"Our administration has had some political setbacks this year, and some of them were deserved," Obama said.
But the president repeatedly suggested that Republicans have been stonewalling for political gain, and not out of any ideological opposition to his proposals.
"So let's put aside the schoolyard taunts about who's tough. Let's reject the false choice between protecting our people and upholding our values. Let's leave behind the fear and division, and do what it takes to defend our nation and forge a more hopeful future -- for America and for the world," Obama said to applause Wednesday night.