In the Republican response to Obama's address, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said the president has a habit of "falsely attacking" the motives of anyone who opposes his agenda. Rubio said Obama's "favorite attack" is to accuse Republicans of caring only about the rich, but tax increases and deficit spending hurt the middle class.
"Mr. President," Rubio responded, "I don't oppose your plans because I want to protect the rich. I oppose your plans because I want to protect my neighbors."
For now, Americans are far happier with Obama's leadership than they are with Congress. A recent Associated Press-GfK poll found that 54 percent of registered voters approve of the job Obama is doing, compared with just 17 percent for Congress.
But that isn't preventing Republicans from digging in their heels. House Speaker John Boehner told television correspondents and anchors Tuesday that immigration is about the only item on Obama's list that has a chance of passing this year. He said the president is more interested in getting a Democratic majority in both chambers next year and he doesn't believe Obama "has the guts" to take on liberals in his party over spending cuts.
Obama recognized that the divided Congress may not fall in line behind all his priorities, specifically mentioning climate change, but said he'd move forward with or without their support. "If Congress won't act soon to protect future generations, I will," Obama said. "I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy."
The White House is acutely aware that Obama must act fast if he wants to be a transformational leader. The president has maybe a year before electoral politics tends to accelerate the already nasty gridlock between the White House and Republican lawmakers.
That's because come next year, members of Congress will be focused on their own campaigns for the midterm election. Then attention focuses on the race to succeed Obama with the primary campaign taking shape in 2015.
EDITOR'S NOTE — Nedra Pickler covers the White House for The Associated Press.
Follow Nedra Pickler on Twitter at https://twitter.com/nedrapickler