Buoyed by a stronger than expected economic report, a feisty President Barack Obama tore into Congress on Wednesday, urging its members to take up long-stalled measures on wages, infrastructure and education.
“Come on and help out a little bit,” Obama implored lawmakers to laughter and applause from an audience of 1,500 at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City. “Stop being mad all the time. Stop just hating all the time.”
The 33-minute speech, which focused entirely on domestic issues, was the centerpiece of an 18-hour presidential stop in Kansas City. It came as the U.S. House considered and passed a resolution authorizing a lawsuit against Obama for allegedly exceeding his constitutional authority while implementing the Affordable Care Act.
The president called the lawsuit a political stunt.
“Every vote they’re taking like that means a vote they’re not taking to actually help you.”
But Republicans criticized the president’s often partisan tone. Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, called Obama’s Kansas City remarks unfortunate.
“It’s like the kind of thing that happens in junior high where you say somebody else is really a bad person,” Blunt said. “That’s no way to begin to work with that person.”
U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, a Kansas Republican, said Obama’s words were “not helpful.”
The president’s campaign-like speech, and the back-and-forth that followed it, may represent the growing focus on the midterm elections, now fewer than 100 days away. Most polls show Democratic House and Senate candidates facing serious headwinds, based in part on Obama’s slumping popularity.
The remarks here Wednesday are expected to be a part of the party’s appeal to core supporters this fall.
“Do not boo,” Obama said. “Vote.”
The speech offered no new policy proposals. Instead, it covered familiar policy ground: passing a higher minimum wage, ending tax breaks for overseas businesses, finishing work on a stalled highway funding bill.
Yet news Wednesday that the U.S. economy grew at an estimated 4 percent rate in the second quarter was seen as surprisingly good news for Democrats. Obama claimed it for his White House.
“We have fought back,” he said. “Construction is up. Manufacturing is back. Our energy, our technology, our auto industries, they’re all booming.”
Those claims, and others like it, provoked several loud endorsements from members of the audience. Obama, with rolled-up sleeves and a relaxed grin, seemed to depart from his prepared text several times to banter with supporters.
“I know they’re not that happy that I’m president, but that’s OK,” he said, referring to Republicans. “I’ve only got a couple of years left. Come on, let’s get some work done. Then you can be mad at the next president.”
Nancy Young of Kansas City said Republicans and Democrats should hear that message.
“Look how much further along we would be if people would just cooperate,” she said after the speech. “Not just for a few people, but for everybody.”
Tonya Brown, who owns a child care facility, said Obama’s discussion of increasing the minimum wage and improving pay for women “connected with me in a very personal way.”
Before the speech, the president met with five members of the Corporon family at the Uptown, where Obama expressed his condolences for the loss of two family members in the April shooting outside the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park.
Mindy Corporon said the opportunity to meet Obama came at the White House’s invitation.
“He gave me a big bear hug and said the whole country was praying for me and my family,” she said.
There was a small gathering of protesters outside the theater when Obama arrived late Wednesday morning. Some of the signs objected to the Affordable Care Act, while others criticized the U.S. position on the fighting between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza.
At the start of the speech, an unidentified woman briefly interrupted Obama’s remarks.
“Jesus is the God of Israel. He is fully God,” she said.
“I believe in God,” Obama responded as the woman was removed from the theater.
Obama was introduced by Victor Fugate of Butler, one of four letter writers who shared Arthur Bryant barbecue with the president Tuesday evening.
The president called the ribs tasty, but “I am not going to decide who makes the best barbecue in Kansas City,” he chuckled.
At the end of the speech, the president urged supporters to avoid anger at a political process that is often slow and confusing.
“Cynicism didn’t put a man on the moon,” he said. “Cynicism didn’t win women the right to vote. Cynicism did not get a Civil Rights Act signed. …
“You don’t have time to be cynical. Hope is a better choice.”