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Despite new-found control in both chambers of the U.S. Congress, Republican lawmakers representing North Carolina spent more time in their seats than their Democratic colleagues Tuesday evening, at President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address.

The speech, Obama’s sixth as president, found him declaring a page turned after years of war and recession and championing policies geared at the middle class — including reforms to the nation’s tax code and a proposal for free community college.

Coming in at just under an hour, the president challenged Republican House and Senate members to “recapture a sense of common purpose” and pursue policies rooted in American values.

House members representing the 18 westernmost counties of North Carolina — Rep. Patrick McHenry, Rep. Mark Meadows and Rep. Virginia Foxx — did not give the address favorable reviews.

“Tonight, President Obama had the opportunity to lay out a bipartisan agenda, aimed at achieving consensus with congressional Republicans during his final two years in office,” McHenry said in a news release issued immediately following the speech. “Unfortunately what I heard was more of the same big government polices which have not worked and were repudiated at the ballot box by the American people last November.”

McHenry, who was named vice chair of the House Financial Services Committee earlier this month and represents North Carolina’s 10th Congressional District, also criticized policies embraced by the president, including the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, arguing it had “driven up borrowing costs” for small businesses.

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Despite belonging to the party opposing the president, McHenry offered his only guest invitation to Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer, a Democrat. Manheimer told the Asheville Citizen-Times that the congressman offered the seat to her as someone whom he thought would be able to “appreciate the message.”

McHenry’s take on the speech was similar to that of his colleague, Rep. Mark Meadows. Meadows, who represents the state’s 11th Congressional District, took issue with the president’s rhetoric.

“While many of [Obama’s] policy proposals seem well-intentioned, they miss the mark when it comes to growing the economy and getting Americans back to work, which should be the top priorities of both the president and Congress,” Meadows said in a news release. “Tonight, President Obama proposed what amounts to $320 billion in new taxes on Americans over the next 10 years.”

To back his claim, Meadows cited an article published by Americans for Tax Reform, the organization renowned for its no new tax pledge and headed by lobbyist Grover Norquist.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, who represents a portion of Western North Carolina in the state’s 5th Congressional District, slammed the president’s speech, declaring him “mired in the past.”

“The American people spoke loud and clear in November, but it’s evident from tonight’s State of the Union that President Obama wasn’t listening,” Foxx said in a news release. “Despite a rejection of his policies at the ballot box, the president continues to propose outdated, Washington-centered ideas that simply don’t work.”

Foxx, who was elected to a sixth term last year, decried the president’s proposals on tax reform and higher education, calling the latter a “top-down federal government boondoggle.”

Still, the congresswoman thought highly enough of Obama to ask for what appeared to be an autograph on the floor following his address, causing a buzz among social media users who spotted her on TV.

Along with criticism, Meadows and McHenry also offered brief comments on areas where they saw potential for the Democratic president to cooperate with the Republican majority in Congress.

“There were areas where I believe congressional Republicans can work together with Mr. Obama, especially as it relates to cybersecurity and trade policy,” McHenry said.

“The president can work with the new Congress to implement policies including tax reform, regulatory reform and investment in our infrastructure that will help grow our economy,” Meadows added. “I will continue to prioritize support for pro-growth policies that tangibly help my constituents and boost our economy.”

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Republican Senators from North Carolina echoed their House colleagues in their negative reviews of the president’s address.

In a news release, Sen. Richard Burr rebuked the president’s threats of vetoing legislation passed by the GOP-led chambers.

“It is clear that the president is once again proposing to raise taxes for new Washington programs—doubling down on the failed policy of more taxes, more debt, and more spending and expanding the size and scope of the federal government,” he said. “The president has missed his opportunity to move forward with this Congress.”

The state’s newest senator, Sen. Thom Tillis, said the president was correct in diagnosing the country’s problems, but came up short in prescribing the most beneficial solutions for results. The senator called on his new colleagues to strive for a bipartisan approach.

“It will require a genuine willingness to cooperate, to find common ground, and to produce results,” Tillis said in a news release after the speech. “I will work in the United States Senate to find common ground, to find common-sense solutions and to end the partisan gridlock. Republican or Democrat, it doesn’t matter whose idea it is, as long as it works for the American people.”

James Harrison

James Harrison is a contributing reporter with Carolina Public Press. Reach him at jharrison@carolinapublicpress.org.

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