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Obama Defends His Aggressive Agenda In Boise, Idaho


Dead on arrival, that's pretty much been the universal Republican response to the proposals in President Obama's State of the Union address. They included middle-class tax cuts, free community college and paid sick leave. Now, the president knew what the reaction would be before he even delivered that speech. Now he's pitching his policies on the road, and as NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports, he landed yesterday in an unlikely place.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Idaho. Deep-red Idaho. The last time President Obama visited the state was in 2008 to campaign for the Democratic nomination, which he won.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Of course in the general election, I got whooped.


OBAMA: I got whooped twice in fact, but that's OK. I've got no hard feelings. In fact, that's exactly why I came back.

KEITH: He then recalled that speech he gave at the Democratic convention in 2004, the one that made him a household name.


OBAMA: There is not a liberal America or a conservative America, but a United States of America.


KEITH: More than a decade later, that idea still gets applause, this time from the 6,000 people at the sport complex at Boise State University.


OBAMA: And today I know it can seem like our politics are more divided than ever. In places like Idaho, the only blue turf is on your field.

KEITH: The University is famous for its blue, artificial turf football field. Obama told the crowd he would spend his last two years in office trying to get past the politics of red and blue. But then he defended his decision to use his state of the union address to push an aggressive new agenda unlikely to win GOP support.


OBAMA: My job is to put forward what I think is best for America. The job of Congress then is to put forward alternative ideas, but they've got to be specific. They can't just be no.

KEITH: A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner responded that Republicans are saying yes to, quote, "good, common sense jobs bills," and they'll soon be sitting on the president's desk. But one man's jobs bill is another man's unraveling of good policy. The White House has already issued several veto threats. And what about bridging the red and blue divide? It may be a bridge too far. Here are Republican Senators Roger Wicker and Johnny Isakson and Congressmen Adam Kinzinger and Trent Franks.

SENATOR ROGER WICKER: I think I heard that 10 years ago.

SENATOR JOHNNY ISAKSON: Most of the kumbaya stuff was just rhetoric.

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM KINZINGER: I think people are kind of looking at it as just a speech.

REPRESENTATIVE TRENT FRANKS: The president is living in complete denial.

KEITH: And if the kumbaya hadn't faded already, considered this announcement from House Speaker John Boehner.


REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: I've invited the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, to address a joint session of Congress.

KEITH: About, he said, the threat that Iran poses to the Middle East and the world. This is a bit like putting salt in an open wound. The Obama administration's efforts to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear program are a conflict point between the president and many in Congress from both parties who want tougher sanctions on Iran. But the president says new sanctions could derail the nuclear talks, talks Israel's Netanyahu has criticized. And it is with this backdrop that Boehner extended his invitation.


BOEHNER: I did not consult with the White House. The Congress can make this decision on its own. I don't believe I'm poking anyone in the eye. There is a serious threat.

KEITH: Mid-flight on Air Force One, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Boehner's Netanyahu invite was a departure from protocol. Tamara Keith, NPR News, traveling with the president. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.