WASHINGTON (Reuters) - This time, there were no shouts of “You lie!” during President Barack Obama’s speech to Congress.
Republicans sat up straight and behaved during Obama’s State of the Union speech on Wednesday, reflecting their renewed confidence as voter sentiment has shifted against many of the president’s proposals.
Republican Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina, who became a symbol of bare-knuckled partisanship after his outburst during Obama’s address to Congress in September 2009, kept his mouth shut this time.
And, unlike Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, he didn’t fall asleep, either.
Ginsburg, who has battled pancreatic cancer, nodded off into her lace collar several times, prompting fellow Justice Stephen Breyer to nudge her in the ribs.
Conservative Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito paid attention — and shook his head, mouthing what appeared to be “that is not true” when Obama criticized a recent court decision.
The State of the Union, aside from being a chance for the president to lay out his agenda, is prime Washington theater. Military commanders mingle with diplomats, while ordinary citizens selected for their inspiring personal stories gaze from the gallery above.
For the 535 members of Congress, the speech amounts to an aerobics class as they leap to their feet to cheer proposals. They applauded some 80 times this year, according to an informal Reuters count. “We’re No. 1!” many chanted when Obama said America must stay ahead of rivals like China and India.
Obama’s Democrats got a lot more exercise than the Republicans, who sat on their hands when the president plugged his stalled healthcare and climate-change legislation.
Republican Representative Phil Gingrey stood up to applaud when Obama proposed using Wall Street bailout funds to help community banks, but sat down quickly when he saw his fellow Republicans were not joining him.
At one point, Obama seemed crestfallen when Republicans met a summary of last year’s tax cuts with silence.
“I thought that would get more applause,” he said.
Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky; editing by Chris Wilson