House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson of Connecticut said Obama "hit it out of the park" by being honest about the challenges that lay ahead for the country on both the domestic and international fronts. Larson downplayed any talk of the speech being too gloomy. "It was realistic, sobering in that respect, nonetheless very poignant," said Larson.
Senate Democrats also rushed to praise the address. "It was an important, serious message," said Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry. "I think he didn't try to do oratory. He just spoke very seriously to us all. I think it was a very solid, strong message."
Senate Finance ranking member Charles Grassley offered a more measured take on the potential impact. "His call for accountability is what America needs to be reminded of. His success carrying that out depends on how often he [mentions] it. If he just gives one speech on it, that's the end of it," he said. Grassley also questioned Obama's call for America to resume world leadership. "I think he is assuming that the rest of the world doesn't like the United States because of [former President George] Bush," said Grassley, before noting that in Eastern Europe, England and France the United States is more popular now than when Bush took office.
In a statement, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., offered his congratulations to Obama and his family while noting the historic nature of the day the first African-American was inaugurated as president.
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas joined in the GOP praise of Obama's emphasis on taking responsibility for leading the nation out of crisis. "Republicans will work with him because we also want to get to a good place," said Sessions. "But he will be held accountable as all of our presidents have."
House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, echoed Sessions' bipartisan sentiment. "The next four years will be marked by considerable challenges -- but also considerable opportunities for all leaders in Washington, regardless of party, to work together on behalf of the American people," he said in a statement.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Obama's success in meeting the "tremendous" challenges he focused on will be the single standard by which his presidency is judged. "I have great confidence in our new president and his seasoned team of advisers," said Hoyer. "Congress stands ready to work with the administration to rebuild our economy, create jobs, and restore American leadership in the world. But rising to meet our challenges will take all of us working together. If change ends in Washington, we will know that our Nation has not lived up to the promise of this moment."
Members from both parties, like many in the throng below, snapped pictures and wondered at the size of the crowd. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joseph Lieberman and Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye, bundled against the cold, leaned out over a balcony to photograph the crowd.