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Republican lawmakers with penchants for bipartisanship reacted with skepticism to President Biden’s first joint address to Congress, as he continued his efforts to woo the group on supporting critical pieces of high-dollar legislation.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who stood up and clapped multiple times during the commander-in-chief’s speech, told reporters after the fact that she wasn’t “overly inspired” by what she heard.
“It was a long list of things that President Biden seeks to try to do his first year of his term,” the moderate senator said, going on to note that she “was looking for more of an uplift and an outreach on the bipartisan note that we heard from the inauguration speech.”
Those watching, she argued, “didn’t necessarily hear that.”
“The things he outlined didn’t give us a lot to grab onto as Republicans,” Murkowski said, adding that lawmakers would have to “see how it unfolds going forward.”
“It’s just hard when you have pretty expansive spending on top of spending with the only way to pay for it is to go after the issue of taxes. I think it makes it very difficult for it to be truly bipartisan.”
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) echoed his fellow moderate Republican’s concerns Wednesday evening, bemoaning the price tag on the progressive legislative priorities outlined by the 46th president.
“Six trillion and counting, I’m sure Bernie was happy,” he joked to reporters.
Calling it “a massive amount of spending,” the Utah senator went on to quip, “If [Biden] were younger, I’d say his dad needs to take away the credit card.”
“[Biden] would like Republicans to vote for his plan but in terms of meeting in the middle, that hasn’t been something the administration has shown yet,” he continued, noting how Democrats moved forward with their $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill without GOP support.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a retiring moderate known for reaching across the aisle, praised Biden’s comments on infrastructure and police reform, while warning that he took those remarks with a grain of salt.
“I thought the parts on infrastructure and on police reform, that he wants to work together with Republicans, I thought that was positive, but we’ve heard that before,” the Ohio lawmaker said.
“We heard it during the campaign, we heard it during the inaugural address and the rhetoric was not matched by action,” he continued. “So you have to be cautiously optimistic.”
Biden was elected on a platform of “unity” and bipartisanship and entered the White House as a three-decade veteran of the Senate, where he and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) developed a personal friendship.
In the early days of Biden’s presidency, he invited a group of GOP senators to the Oval Office to discuss proposals for COVID-19 relief.
The meeting was his first with any lawmakers since taking office, and the effort toward unity was largely praised from both sides of the aisle.
While the group — which included Murkowski, Portman and Romney — offered optimistic comments on the potential for bipartisanship after the meeting, nothing ever materialized.
The president opted to move forward with a largely progressive agenda, choosing to pursue legislation that did not garner any GOP backing.
It remains to be seen if he can peel off a group of Republicans to back his infrastructure push.
Unlike the moderate group, who are waiting to see what steps Biden takes on infrastructure, other prominent names in the party were quick to criticize the president’s address.
Speaking to Fox News’ “Hannity” Wednesday evening, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) slammed what he saw as a lack of unity being offered by the chief executive.
“If he really wanted to unite us, why didn’t he congratulate Operation Warp Speed? All the Americans who worked on that, that brought that vaccine that he was able to take before he was ever sworn in? The idea of the goal of 100 million, that was the goal we already had prior and we’re going to meet,” the top California lawmaker asked.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who was seen with his eyes closed for extended periods during the address, criticized the speech as “boring but radical.”
“The speech by design was calm and dulcet tones, you know, I challenge you to remember a single line from the speech. It was monotone, the chamber was nearly empty, and that really has characterized the first hundred days of Joe Biden, that he’s tried to say nothing notable, he’s tried to tweet nothing notable,” Cruz began, discussing the address with Fox News.
“I think he’s made the political decisions that many people were tired of the drama of the previous four years, and they wanted something calm, but Joe is deliberately being boring, but the substance of what he saying is radical.”
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