US Politics

Republicans praise Obama's eloquence while preparing for battle

Some relish Obama's talk of a fresh start but see flashpoint issues like gay rights and gun control

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 January, 2013, 3:48am

Republicans sat politely and applauded as US President Barack Obama called for unity on Monday in the inaugural address of his second term, but some made no secret his second term would be a "tug of war" between liberals and conservatives.

Republican stalwarts like John McCain and Orrin Hatch - the latter wearing a broad-brimmed cowboy hat - appeared to gamely embrace Obama's call for a return to reasoned political debate rather than Washington's farcical partisan theatre of recent years.

But no sooner had the president stepped off the inauguration platform than his rivals issued blunt reminders of the nature of America's two-party system.

McCain, the senator and 2008 Republican presidential nominee who lost to Obama that year, said he thought the Democrat delivered an "excellent speech", but one lacking outreach to the other side.

"I didn't hear any conciliatory remarks associated with it, but that's his privilege," McCain said.

"This is the eighth one of these I've been to - [in] every one of them there was a portion of the speech where it's time for us Republicans and Democrats to work together."

The two parties were badly bruised during a punishing two years of political squabbling and nastiness, particularly over the debate about how to resolve several looming fiscal issues like the national debt, that saw the 112th Congress rated as one of the most ineffective in the country's history.

While some in the Republican Party, like Senate leader Mitch McConnell, stressed that the beginning of Obama's second term marked a "fresh start", several of them quickly dug into the president's comments on flashpoint issues like gay rights, immigration, climate change and gun control.

"I think he's setting his agenda for the second term, and we'll have an opportunity to debate it and discuss it," said Senator Tim Scott, who became the first black Republican senator in more than 30 years early this month after South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley appointed him to fill a vacated seat.

Obama "will be moving the country to the left, and we're going to make sure that we pull it back to the right", he told reporters.

"And we're going to have a good tug of war in the future."

Several Republicans spoke of Obama's eloquence at the podium, including Senator Jeff Sessions, who said the president used his gift for oratory to push his belief that "a bigger government can drive innovation and prosperity for the country".