CAMBRIDGE, Md. - President Obama fired up House Democrats today with an energetic address, urging Democrats to capitalize on an array of legislative opportunities this year and build a case for a Democratic electoral sweep this fall.
The president repeated many of the themes from his State of the Union address, and he predicted that House Democrats would win back the House majority this November, restoring Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi's perch in the speaker's chair.
"People understand that the job's not done - not even close to being done yet," he said. "If we're going to finish the job, then we've got to, first of all, make sure that American manufacturing is strong, and that means that we're out there creating a tax code that doesn't provide tax breaks for companies that are shipping jobs overseas. We are focusing on companies that are investing right here in the United States because we believe that when you make it in America, everybody benefits. Everybody does well."
Obama recounted some of the legislative accomplishments during his presidency, such as the Recovery Act and the auto bailout, and he imagined how much worse the financial crisis could have become if Democrats had not acted.
"The good news is that we are moving in the right direction thanks to your efforts, thanks to some tough votes that all of you took, thanks to the leadership that Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the leadership team showed," he said. "We righted the ship. We did not tip into a Great Depression."
Moving forward, Obama said that Democrats must work to "restore a commitment to the American values of hard work and responsibility."
"Nobody envies rich people. Everybody wants to be rich," Obama said, drawing laughter from the Democrats. "Everybody aspires to be rich, and everybody understands that you got to work hard if you're going to be financially successful. That's the American way. The question is: Are we creating opportunity for everybody?"
The president's visit to the House Democratic caucus's retreat concluded his blitz through the country to sell initiatives enumerated in his State of the Union address. He said that the American promise "has been eroding for too many people" as wages and income are stagnant and jobs are outsourced.
"The defining question that faces all of us is whether we are going to restore that sense of an American promise where, if you work hard, if you're carrying out your responsibilities, if you're looking out for your family, if you're participating in your community, if you're doing what you're supposed to be doing, you have the chance to get a job that allows you to support your family," the president said. "You won't be bankrupt when you get sick. You can send your children to college. You can retire with some dignity and some respect. You can expect that the next generation - your children and grandchildren - will do better than you did."
This week, about 100 rank-and-file Democrats attended the three-day retreat, which was themed "Reigniting the American Dream." Vice President Joe Biden also addressed the conference earlier today. Obama said that once a Republican presidential candidate secures the GOP nomination, Democrats will have a clear opportunity to differentiate themselves based on the contrasting directions each party wants to take the country.
"Obviously, we're in a election season, and when the other side decides who it is that they want to be their standard-bearer, then we're going to have a robust debate about whose vision is more promising when it comes to moving this country forward," Obama said. "You guys are putting it all on the line because you believe in America in which everybody gets a fair shot and everybody does their fair share, and everybody plays by the same set of rules. That's what you have been about, that's what this caucus is about and that's the vision that we're fighting for this year and in years to come."
While Congressional Republicans contend that Obama has turned his attention to his reelection campaign, the president prodded his party to recognize that "it's important during the course of this year not to forget that there's still work that we can do right now."
"We can extend the payroll tax cut right now, without drama and without delay. We can work together right now to help start-ups and entrepreneurs get easier financing and use R&D more effectively," Obama said. "There are folks out there that are still counting on us. There are people out there who are still hurting, and wherever we have an opportunity, wherever there is the possibility that the other side is putting some politics aside for just a nanosecond in order to get something done for the American people, we've got to be right there ready to meet them."
"On the other hand, where [Republicans] obstruct, where they're unwilling to act, where they're more interested in party than they are in country, more interested in the next election than the next generation, then we've got to call them out on it," he continued. "We've got to call them out on it. We've got to push them. We can't wait. We can't be held back."
The president spoke for about 22 minutes and finished with an emphatic call to action, bringing the House Democrats to their feet in a standing ovation.
"I believe in you guys. You guys have had my back through some very tough times. I'm going to have your back as well, and together, we're going to move this country forward," Obama said to a rousing applause. "Let's go out there and change the country."