Covering the State of the Union address in person for the first time offers a glimpse into the theatrics of the annual event.
There was walking past the wide-eyed, gun-loving rocker Ted Nugent en route to entering the U.S. House chamber. Then there was the required viewing for reporters on how to respond in the event of a terrorist attack, although the TV screen was too far away to see.
After the address, there was the mad rush to conduct as many interviews with as many members of Congress as possible on a tight deadline in the giant scrum that is the National Statuary Hall outside of the U.S. House chamber.
Finally, after filing a story, there was even the happenstance of walking past an equally tired-looking and, apparently thirsty, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla, after he had delivered his response speech.
Please, pardon the name-dropping.
But, during the State of the Union, a media seat in the House Press Gallery allowed a reporter to observe how everyone reacted to President Barack Obama’s address.
The two Democrats in the Louisiana congressional delegation, of course, applauded at the right times in support of Obama.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who was sporting her red, white and blue Mardi Gras beads, had a prime seat and exchanged a few words with Obama toward the end of his entrance.
But it’s usually more entertaining watching how the opposition responds to the sitting president from another party. And the six Republicans in the Louisiana delegation make it easier by all sitting next to each other.
In the order they were seated, the Republicans were Reps. Rodney Alexander, of Quitman; Charles Boustany, of Lafayette; Steve Scalise, of Jefferson; John Fleming, of Minden; Sen. David Vitter, of Louisiana; and Rep. Bill Cassidy, of Baton Rouge. Or, in other words, they were Alexander, a doctor, Scalise, another doctor, Vitter, a third doctor.
And it just so happens the physicians three — Boustany, Fleming and Cassidy — are all openly considering challenging Landrieu for the U.S. Senate in 2014.
Fleming and Cassidy have openly flirted with the opportunity dating back to last year. Boustany is new to the group after defeating former Congressman Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, in a tough race in December when the two were forced to run against each other because of redistricting.
Fresh off of a Washington Mardi Gras, during which Boustany’s camp says Republicans urged him to run, the retired Lafayette surgeon is now considering entering the fray.
Fleming is more aligned with the far right, tea party movement among conservatives, whereas Boustany and Cassidy both score closer to the middle — at least by Republican standards — on conservative scorecards.
During the State of the Union, Fleming and Vitter did the least applauding of the Louisiana delegation on some of Obama’s more bipartisan comments.
Applauding during the State of the Union may have more to do with general politeness and the pomp and circumstance of the event, but that doesn’t mean it can’t reveal a few tendencies.
Boustany, Cassidy, Alexander and Scalise all stood and applauded when Obama mentioned the troop drawdown in Afghanistan. Fleming and Vitter stayed seated without clapping.
Boustany and Cassidy were the only Louisiana Republicans to clap while Obama spoke of supporting people in the Middle East “as they demand their universal rights and support stable transitions to democracy.”
Boustany and Cassidy also were the only ones to applaud when Obama mentioned expanding domestic natural gas production. “That’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits,” Obama said.
But that is far from saying they were supporting the president. Even Scalise, who chairs the staunchly conservative Republican Study Committee, offered his fair share of polite applause.
And after the address, Boustany and Cassidy were among those criticizing the president for saying some of the right things, especially on energy production, but allegedly failing to back it up with policy.
Meanwhile, Fleming is already targeting Landrieu, including a news release Friday criticizing her for wanting to increase taxes by closing loopholes on certain personal and corporate deductions for the wealthy.
“Mary Landrieu and President Obama are out of touch with Louisiana values,” Fleming stated. “Washington doesn’t need to take ‘more revenues’ from the pockets of hard-working Americans.”
Jordan Blum is chief of The Advocate’s Washington bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.