Festive at Left for Obama’s Last State of the Union

     WASHINGTON (CN) – Though largely confined to Democrats and the party base, the electric mood for the final State of the Union address Tuesday hearkened back to President Barack Obama’s inaugural days in office.
     The House chamber buzzed before the president’s arrival as members of Congress and the president’s cabinet mingled and socialized.
     Ample handshakes, hugs and kissed cheeks accompanied the pomp and ceremony, while Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio greeted each other with a fist bump.
     A wild applause erupted when the Supreme Court justices appeared, minus the court’s three most conservative justices – Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia.
     First Lady Michelle Obama, donning a sleeveless orange dress, took her seat soon after, as lawmakers cheered and clapped. Mrs. Obama hugged Vice President Joe Biden’s wife, Dr. Jill Biden.
     From the president’s cabinet, Secretary of State John Kerry greeted the Supreme Court justices and shook hands with lawmakers, but reserved a bro hug for Sen. Graham of South Carolina.
     Standing at the House speaker’s desk, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chatted at length with Vice President Biden as they awaited Obama’s arrival.
     The president’s appearance signaled a crescendo in the room. As Obama made his way into the chamber, he greeted those who had nabbed aisle seats.
     Though the president shook hands with the Supreme Court justices, he opted to give Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg a bear hug.
     In a nostalgic ode to the rallying cry from Obama’s 2008 campaign, some lawmakers started chanting, “Fired up! Ready to go!”
     Edith Childs, the Greenwood, S.C., councilor behind the slogan that helped energize the president’s campaign, joined Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Biden for the address.
     The president’s speech drew laughs at times, wild applause at others and the occasional jeer.
     The president said he put Biden “in charge of mission control” – apparently news to the vice president himself – to make the United States “the country that cures cancer once and for all.”
     Another reporter in the press area could be heard saying, “that’s ridiculous,” numerous times.
     Republicans and Democrats were easily distinguishable on sight.
     Dressed in drab colors on one half of the chamber, the male-dominated sea of conservative lawmakers sat in stark contrast to the other side of the room, which boasted a good number of female lawmakers wearing bright, festive colors.
     With a few exceptions, the conservative side mostly remained seated, while their colorful counterparts stood, cheered and clapped for what the president said he has accomplished, and the vision he put forth for the country’s future.
     Lawmakers expressed bipartisan approval for the president’s opening comments on criminal-justice reform and prevailing in the battle against prescription-drug abuse.
     Perhaps in recognition of the Charleston church shooting last year, Sen. Graham stood and clapped among the otherwise seated conservative lawmakers when the president mentioned protecting kids from gun violence.
     Graham, along with Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., also stood and clapped when the president expressed a need to strengthen Social Security and Medicare.
     The president delivered a few jabs, accusing lawmakers who claim the country’s economy is in decline as “peddling fiction.” Obama also invited climate-change deniers to attend a lonely debate with most of the rest of the world.
     This year, Democratic Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Keith Ellison – the first Muslim elected to Congress – encouraged lawmakers to invite Muslim guests to attend the speech. About a dozen or so lawmakers heeded the call, including Republican Rep. Matt Salmon from Arizona.
     A few women wearing hijabs, a headscarf worn by pious Muslim women, could be spotted in the upper seating area.
     Among the president’s personal guests was Refaai Hamo, a 55-year-old refugee who fled Syria in 2013 after the government there killed seven of his family members.
     The president’s calls to not target people based on race or religion garnered bipartisan support, as many conservative lawmakers stood and clapped with Democrats.
     GOP lawmakers audibly jeered, however, when the president suggested that America’s enemies are not getting stronger. In their most overt outburst, they cheered and applauded when the president spoke about changing outdated regulations.
     Hinting that he might take more executive actions during his last year in office, the president lamented his inability to bridge the political divide, but said he could not do it alone.
     Again, audible jeers and rustling could be heard from conservative lawmakers, an apparent response to Obama’s recent unilateral executive orders on curbing gun violence.
     Conservative lawmakers high-tailed it out of the chamber immediately after the president’s closing remarks, while Mr. Obama took time shake more hands, kiss more cheeks and deliver more hugs as he made his way toward the exit, throwing a backward glance before he left the chamber.

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