WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s nod to an Army Ranger who was almost killed by a massive roadside bomb in Afghanistan drew the longest sustained applause of the State of the Union speech Tuesday night.
“Cory is here tonight. And like the Army he loves, like the Army he serves, Sgt. First Class Cory Remsburg never gives up, and he does not quit,” Obama said near the close of his address in the U.S. House chamber.
Remsburg, in full dress uniform, sat with his father, Craig Remsburg, as guests of first lady Michelle Obama in a box overlooking the House chamber. The Remsburgs, residents of Phoenix, Ariz., were among the 26 guests invited by the first lady to attend her husband’s speech. Each one was there to emphasize a piece of his agenda.
For much of the speech, the atmosphere in the chamber reflected Congress’ strong partisan divide. Obama was interrupted more than 80 times for applause. On many issues, like unemployment insurance, criticism of the government shutdown, the environment and education, Obama received standing ovations from the Democrats. The Republicans remained seated and on several occasions, muttered amongst themselves while the Democrats applauded.
The U.S. Olympic team, support for American-made products, recognition of the first lady and her guests and Obama’s friendly characterization of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, garnered the strongest bipartisan responses. The president recognized Boehner as an achiever of the American Dream, “the son of a barkeeper,” who made it to one of the top government positions, receiving more applause than Obama’s characterization of himself as the son of a single mother.
Obama’s insertion of a little humor was appreciated.
When the president raised the issue of women’s workplace rights, the whole chamber erupted with applause, drowning out his words.
“It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a ‘Mad Men’ episode. This year, let’s all come together … to give every woman the opportunity she deserves,” Obama said.
House members arrived hours early to secure seats on aisle, aiming to greet Obama on his way into the chamber. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Rep. Barbara Lee were two of the members in the coveted seats before the speech began.
Five of the nine justices represented the Supreme Court. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy and Elena Kagan attended. Justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor were not in the chamber for the speech.
Following the Supreme Court justices, the senators and then the cabinet filed in before the president, shaking hands with House members on their way down the aisle. Some lawmakers had their arms folded, and a couple even checked their phones as Obama moved down the aisle, not pausing especially long to greet any particular person. It still took the president more than four minutes to walk from the chamber entrance to the podium.
At the end of the speech, a handful of congressmen paused to take pictures of Cory Remsburg, who was applauded on his way in and out of the chamber.