Republicans Criticize President Obama’s Timing in State of the Union, Lack of Inclusion of American Detainment in Iran

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Most Republicans didn't enjoy President Barack Obama's last State of the Union, except for the fact of it being his last.

Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan leave after speaking to reporters following the weekly House GOP Conference meeting at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 12, 2016, in Washington, DC. (Credit: Pete Marovich/Getty Images)

Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan leave after speaking to reporters following the weekly House GOP Conference meeting at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 12, 2016, in Washington, DC. (Credit: Pete Marovich/Getty Images)

The energy level in the Capitol for Obama's seventh and final SOTU address felt lower than in past years. Earlier in his term, lots of members of both parties stopped by Statuary Hall to give pre-buttals, pitch themselves for interviews, and chat up the issues they expected to hear about from the President. There wasn't as much such activity this year, only some brief commotion and camera flashes when leaders, cabinet members and Supreme Court justices walked through on their way to the chamber.

Obama did not mention the 10 American sailors taken into custody by Iran earlier Tuesday and still not released by the time of the speech, but he did promote the nuclear deal the administration reached with Iran and other countries last year.

"I was very concerned that he's missing where the challenge of the world is with security -- he sits and talks positively about Iran when they just took 10 of our Navy sailors," said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

"National security is our number one issue and I think he's in a different place than the rest of the country," he added. "I do believe we've taken a step back and we've allowed others to fill the void and it's made the world unsafe. We need to take a stronger approach."

Sen. John McCain, Obama's old presidential campaign rival, said Obama "completely omitted" mentioning the sailors, "this latest example of Iran's provocative behavior, so as not to interfere with his delusional talking points about his dangerous nuclear deal with Iran.

Obama called for Congress to take up an Authorization for the Use of Military Force resolution this year, but Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, wasn't impressed.

"If he asked for a real AUMF that didn't hamstring the next president, he would have support," Johnson said. "That's the problem. Right now by precedent he's using the AUMF that's in place that gives him the power. Nobody is challenging it. I don't see what he needs more than that, quite honestly. He's not going to get support for a weaker AUMF than he already has."

Changing politics?

Obama used his speech to call for one last change to the political system that seems hopelessly broken and partisan. Economic opportunity, security and a sustainable, peaceful planet are possible, if the country could return to "rational, constructive debates," Obama said. "It will only happen if we fix our politics."

West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin came away saying that Obama missed a prime opportunity to fix politics in Washington, and Tuesday's speech came too late.

"I've been here for six years... If you had seen this type of rhetoric and seen some follow-up with it, I think you'd see a different Washington right now," Manchin said. "It's never too little too late but it's a shame he missed the opportunity. He recognized that.

"Let's see what he does in this year. Knowing that we're in a real toxic environment with the presidential campaign makes it more difficult but at least I give him credit for realizing it needs to change," Manchin added.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn labeled that part of the speech "preachy."

"He's a product of politics in America," Cornyn said. "I don't know. It's a little preachy for me."

Moonshot politics

Obama's nod to working to cure cancer was something that drew Republican support.

It was the one thing McCarthy said he could work with the president on. "I want to cure cancer with him," the California Republican said, noting that he lost his father to cancer and the House already passed a bill attempting to boost the government's approach to finding a cure.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton echoed that sentiment.

"I spent some time with Vice President Biden before the speech, and he is committed to helping us get important, bipartisan reforms through the Senate and into law," Upton said.