Obama addresses the nation from the Oval Office of the White House on Sunday. (Photo: Saul Loeb/Reuters/Pool)
President Barack Obama delivered a rare primetime speech from the Oval Office on Sunday night to reassure Americans “we will overcome” the terror threat posed by the Islamic State militant group also known as ISIS or ISIL, press Congress to strengthen the country’s gun laws and urge Muslims around the world to confront extremism “without excuse.”
But his critics pounced, with top Republican lawmakers, leading GOP candidates and even his former top adviser saying the president offered nothing new.
“That all there is?” Donald Trump wrote on Twitter. “We need a new President — FAST!”
The Republican frontrunner ripped Obama for not using the phrase “radical Islam" in his speech.
“We are at WAR with RADICAL ISLAMIC TERRORISTS,” Trump tweeted.
But Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said Obama’s speech was a tacit admission the recent mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., was, in fact, carried out by such radical extremists.
“In the president’s own sort of roundabout way, he admitted the recent attack was radical Islam,” Paul told Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric shortly after the president’s address. “Of course he said it doesn’t represent Islam — and I agree with that — but I did think he did admit tonight it was a radicalization and it does have something to do with an abhorrent form of people who are Islamic.”
Several GOP candidates also criticized Obama’s vow not to put troops on the ground in the fight against ISIS.
“The president’s strategy is not enough,” Ohio Gov. John Kasich said in a statement. “Without taking the fight to ISIS on the ground, ISIS won’t be defeated. Since February I’ve been calling for a coalition to do that. We must stop delaying and do it.”
“President Obama’s address tonight failed to obscure what has become increasingly clear to the American people,“ Arizona Sen. John McCain said in a statement. “That we are not winning the war against ISIL, and that the threat of terrorism against our homeland is real and growing. As the president said, America should never give in to fear. But neither should we fear to acknowledge the nature and severity of the threats we face and do everything within our power to confront them.”
McCain continued: “President Obama is fond of invoking lessons of our nation’s recent wars. Yet the simplest and most important lesson is the one he failed to mention tonight: Apocalyptic terrorists cannot be allowed to have sanctuary in ungoverned spaces from which to plan attacks against us. Yet after more than a year of an indecisive military campaign, ISIL maintains its sanctuaries in Iraq and Syria from which to conduct and inspire attacks like Paris and San Bernardino.”
“Nothing that happened in the speech tonight is going to assuage people’s fears,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said on Fox News. “He honestly believes that there is a coalition fighting against ISIS. This is absurd. There is no such coalition. A lot of countries that have put their names on a piece of paper.”
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called the president’s speech “weak.“
"This is the war of our time,” Bush said in a statement. “It should not be business as usual.”
“If I am elected president, I will direct the Department of Defense to destroy ISIS,” Texas Sen. Cruz said in a statement of his own. “And I will shut down the broken immigration system that is letting jihadists into our country. Nothing President Obama said tonight will assist in either case.”
Obama’s call for stricter gun control received predictable pushback.
“The terrorists seek to tear down the very constitutional rights we enjoy and that countless have fought to defend,” the Republican National Committee said in a statement. “To react by trying to limit the rights enshrined by our Constitution would be a terrible mistake.“
"Vintage Obama,” Carly Fiorina tweeted late Sunday. “No strategy, no leadership. Politics as usual.”
Former New York Gov. George Pataki, another GOP candidate, compared Obama’s speech on ISIS to an ISIS hostage video.
On the Democratic side, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders issued a statement in support of Obama’s approach to fighting ISIS:
President Obama is right. ISIS will be destroyed with an international coalition in which Muslim troops on the ground are supported by the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia and other leading powers. We must learn the lesson of Iraq. American troops should not be engaged in perpetual warfare in the Middle East. Further, as we destroy ISIS, it is essential that we do not allow fear and division to undermine the constitutional rights that make us a free people.
On CNN, David Axelrod, Obama’s former senior adviser, called the president’s speech “solid” but said it didn’t meet the threshold of Oval Office speeches because it offered nothing new.
And, perhaps tellingly, Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton — who the GOP has sought to link to what they say are Obama’s failed foreign policies — has yet to weigh in publicly on the president’s address.