President Obama on Thursday dared congressional Republicans to give him reason to stop attacking them by giving him what he wants in a jobs bill. Taking a page—and some rhetoric—from Harry Truman’s 1948 campaign, he even labeled them a “do-nothing Congress.”
“We will just keep on going at it and hammering away until something gets done,” he promised at his morning White House press conference. “And I would love nothing more than to see Congress act so aggressively that I can't campaign against them as a do-nothing Congress.”
But his tone left no doubt that no one should hold their breath waiting for those attacks to subside. Indeed, it was the theme he returned to repeatedly during the session in the East Room. He accused opposition Republicans of playing political games and mindlessly opposing measures they would normally support simply because they bear the Obama brand.
If, he said, “everybody on Capitol Hill is cynical and saying... there’s no way that the overall jobs bill passes in its current form, we’re just going to keep on going at it. I want everybody to be clear,” he said. Casting Republicans as cynics who think this is a political game, he called for that to end. “This is not a game, this is not the time for the usual political gridlock,” he said, talking of the fragility of the economy and the threat from Europe.
“It's fair to say that I have gone out of my way in every instance, sometimes at my own political peril, and to the frustration of democrats to work with republicans to find common ground, to move this country forward,” he said, adding, “Each time what we've seen is games playing, a preference to try to score political points rather than actually get something done on the part of the other side.”
He lamented a cynicism he sees infecting the American public mood despite what he hailed as broad support for specific provisions of his jobs bill. But that support is tempered by the cynicism. “They are very skeptical about congress' ability to act right now. And that's understandable,” he said, adding, “They don't get a sense that folks in this town are looking out for their interests.”
He said changing that mood is up to Capitol Hill. “That cynicism is not going to be reduced until Congress actually proves their cynicism wrong by doing something that would actually help the American people... Until they see Congress actually putting country ahead of party politics, and partisanship they are going to be skeptical and it doesn't matter how many times I preach to them.”
In recent weeks, that “preaching” has already taken the president to such electorally important states as Ohio (twice), Virginia, North Carolina, California, Colorado and Washington. It continues Tuesday when he travels to Pittsburgh to meet with his Jobs Council and continue, as promised, hammering away at Congress.
This article appears in the October 6, 2011 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.