As I mentioned in a post earlier today, I think the reaction that Members of Congress had to President Obama’s speech last night is extremely important because they are the ones the Administration will have to work with to pass productive legislation. With that in mind, I interviewed Rep. Gerry Connolly who represents Virginia’s 11th district in the House of Representatives to get his reaction to last night’s speech.
Many viewers at home were able to see how eager Members of Congress were to hear Obama’s address and Gerry agreed that there was a sense of excitement in the air. This primarily came from the fact there “measure of good will that he’s earned that you saw last night” and while there might have been a few areas of disagreement, there were many times when both sides of the aisle gave standing ovations. He continued by saying that the Administration will have to get support from both sides of the aisle and used the fact that very few republicans stood and applauded when he spoke about SCHIP as an example of the work that needed to be done.
With that being said, Gerry believes that much of the reaction to the speech and the policies Obama put forward would break along party lines. He did point out that he has had conversations with many moderate Republicans who appear to want to support the president on certain issues, but the Republican leadership has run a tight ship in their party. The moderates are therefore hesitant to break with their party because the leadership makes important decisions on things such as committee assignments. A prime example of this concept in action is the vote on the stimulus bill where no Republicans in the House voted “Aye” even though there were some Republicans who might have supported the package. I personally believe this is something that is definitely worth noting because it means that people represented by moderate Republicans should let their Representatives know that they value solutions over partisanship.
One of the criticisms that the media has been putting forward is that Obama didn’t lay out enough details during the speech. Gerry, however, said this criticism “is a little disingenuous” on the media's part as they probably would have been attacking Obama for giving a boring speech if he had gone into analyzing bills that are sometimes extremely complex. He also emphasized that he thought Obama delivered many powerful messages during the speech. The portion about how dropping out of high school wouldn’t just be letting both the individual and the entire country down, for instance, was one of the lines that Gerry felt delivered an important example of how the individual can take pride in working for the common good. He pointed out that this call for shared sacrifice and personal action was exactly what was missing during the last eight years.
Gerry also said that he was “particularly struck with how bold the sweep of [Obama’s] vision truly is.” There were many issues on both the domestic (education, energy, health care) and the foreign (wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and national security) that the president spoke about during the speech and emphasized how these were items were something that needed to be acted upon. Following up on this, he pointed out that many of the great presidents in history put forward progressive action when the country was in crisis. He drew attention to the fact that Obama mentioned the fact that railroads were built during the Civil War that connected the coasts -- an investment that greatly benefited the country. Highlighting his knowledge of history, Gerry also pointed out how Abraham Lincoln insisted that the dome on the Capitol Building be completed even though there was some opposition to the construction since it would cost so much money while the country was at war. The completion of the dome was necessary in Lincoln’s mind because it was a symbol of a united country and the greatness the United States of America.
For a lighthearted conclusion to our interview, I asked Gerry where he sat during the speech. He pointed out that he arrived a little after 8pm and the chamber was already filled and he ended up sitting next to a Democratic member of Congress from Ohio. Many thanks go to Rep. Connolly for taking the time to speak with me this afternoon. As there are more developments in Congress I will continue to check in with Gerry and his office.