WASHINGTON (AP) — His second-term agenda on the line, President Barack Obama urged his most ardent supporters to mount a summertime show of support that can rival any opposition Obama and Democrats may face from constituents next month. “We’ve got to get folks activated and involved,” Obama declared.
Obama spoke Monday to a summit of Organizing for Action, a group formed from the president’s 2012 re-election campaign with the express goal of backing his policy priorities. The Democratic Party’s other most prominent figures, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, joined him in asking supporters for help in promoting the party’s legislative goals.
“One of our challenges … is how do we keep people involved? Naturally it’s not going to be as full of razzmatazz as a campaign,” Obama said, pointing to the intense fundraising and mobilization before Election Day. “Nonetheless, in some ways this stuff is more important.”
Lawmakers in barely a week will fan out across the country, returning to their home districts for the annual summer break. At town hall meetings and picnics and public events, they’ll hear firsthand from constituents — most of whom, polls show, have had it with Washington and incessant partisan fighting.
With a tough path ahead for Obama’s major goals — including an immigration overhaul, the economy and the rollout of his health care law — his supporters want to ensure that lawmakers of both parties return to Washington with a mandate to work with Obama. So, OFA, with a presidential assist, is seeking to get activists energized and ready to speak up.
Jon Carson, OFA’s executive director, said the group would celebrate Obama’s Aug. 4 birthday by “celebrating and defending and explaining and promoting” the president’s health care law. He said group plans to hold events on Aug. 13 critical of lawmakers who are skeptical of man-made climate change.
The group’s chairman, Jim Messina, who served as Obama’s campaign manager in 2012, noted that the immigration bill garnered 68 votes in the Senate. “Now we’re going to force it through the House,” Messina declared.
But the proactive rallying of the party faithful may also be an attempt to pre-empt what Democrats anticipate will be a concerted effort by conservatives to show lawmakers they want Obama’s agenda stopped in its tracks — and that they’ll punish those who go along with his proposals in the next election.
After all, it was during the same period in Obama’s first term when a burgeoning tea party, incensed by Obama’s health care proposals, showed up in full force at town halls in 2009. A year later, Obama’s party lost control of the House and hemorrhaged seats in the Senate, dealing a major blow to Obama’s agenda in what the president described as a “shellacking.”
Republicans said Obama’s time would be better spent finding a way to work with Congress rather than reverting to campaign tactics to knock Republicans. They questioned his support for OFA, which competes with the Democratic Party for fundraising dollars.
“The president needs help spinning Americans during August recess because his speeches haven’t started hiring,” said Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski. “And once again the president is putting himself and his legacy over the future of the Democrat Party.”
Democrats are trying to build momentum on issues like an immigration overhaul, which cleared the Senate but faces an uncertain future in the House; expanded gun background checks, which are stalled in Congress; and measures to curb climate change, which the president outlined last month.
And Obama is working to implement complex elements of his health care law despite continued resistance from Republicans and headaches over delays and glitches.
The summit brought together about 300 attendees from around the country who also heard from Pelosi and Reid, who said grassroots activism was crucial to implementing the new health care law, approving legislation to curb gun violence and reform the nation’s immigration laws.
“We can’t do any of this unless we own the ground,” said Pelosi.
Obama is also revving up for a series of speeches beginning this week aimed at building support ahead of upcoming budget deadlines and a likely battle with Republicans over the nation’s borrowing limit. He’ll talk economics on Wednesday in Galesburg, Ill., and Warrensburg, Mo., then fly to Jacksonville, Fla., on Thursday to make his pitch to Floridians.
Organizing for Action, which is run by former White House and campaign aides, has tried to build public pressure on lawmakers to enact Obama’s second-term agenda. The group raised more than $8 million between April and June.
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