First Responders -- As a sign of how deeply divided Republicans are, they had four separate responses, two of which came from the Tea Party wing.
The GOP leadership's designated responder, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state, was clearly the most personable and effective. Her presentation seemed like an extended biography (ala Chris Christie's keynote speech at last summer's Republican convention), and when she got around to the issues the big question was Where's the beef?"
Several times she simply said, "We have a plan" for this and that but she short on specifics. Maybe that's because her party takes the role of opposition too literally, content to "Just say no," with little constructive to offer. Their plan for health care: repeal Obamacare. Their plan for immigration reform: more border guards. Their plan to cut deficits: lower taxes for the wealthy. Their plan to feed the poor: cut food stamps. Their plan to help the middle class: oppose raising the minimum wage.
Middle East -- President Obama had only a single sentence about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and it contained strong support for the peace process, the two-state solution and Israeli security, but it also implied a rebuke for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, something the United States does and Bibi Netanyahu has been demanding of the Palestinians.
Two paragraphs later the President took a lot of the wind out of the sails of the AIPAC-driven Senate bill to impose new sanctions on Iran during the nuclear negotiations. He had a very tough and clear messsage for Bibi Netanyahu (working behind the scenes), AIPAC (leading the charge), Senate Republicans and a shrinking number of Democrats who want to enact new sanctions now:
"(L)et me be clear: If this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it."
After insisting "we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed," he had a warning for Tehran: "If Iran’s leaders do not seize this opportunity, then I will be the first to call for more sanctions, and stand ready to exercise all options to make sure Iran does not build a nuclear weapon."
The bill, which is sponsored by all but two Senate Republicans, had 16 Democratic sponsors before the speech, but that number is shrinking. Sen. Joe Manachin of West Virginia is the latest to have second thoughts, joining Connecticut's Richard Blumenthal, Chris Coons of Delaware and Ben Cardin of Maryland, and I hear others are going to announce soon.
The consensus on the Hill is the bill is dead, at least so long as the negotiations with Iran are going on.
The only one of Israel's neighbors to warrant any mention at all was Syria. "In Syria we'll support the opposition that rejects the agenda of terrorist networks" but offered no specifics. So far the administration has been vague and paltry in its support for the opposition, which has been calling for arms and anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to defend against the regime.
Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon were not mentioned even once.
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