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Obama Revs Up House Democrats For Election-Year Fight

Rep. John Larson, a Connecticut Democrat., introduces President Obama at the House Democratic Issues Conference on Friday in Cambridge, Md.
Haraz N. Ghanbari
Rep. John Larson, a Connecticut Democrat., introduces President Obama at the House Democratic Issues Conference on Friday in Cambridge, Md.

President Obama flew out to Maryland's Eastern Shore on Friday to fire up his rank and file in Congress.

House Democrats have spent the past few days in their annual retreat, regrouping and strategizing for the year to come. Lawmakers say their hopes for success — in the economy and in politics — depend on sticking together and sending the same message to Americans.

The head of the House Democratic Caucus, John Larson of Connecticut, whipped up the crowd before Obama's speech. Democrats, he said, came out of the president's State of the Union address this week with a fresh message "that reignited and energized this caucus, but more importantly the American people. Inspired, we came here to work!"

Lawmakers jumped to their feet, cheering the arrival of the Democrat in chief.

Obama recapped many of the themes in his State of the Union speech, stressing manufacturing, bringing outsourced jobs back to the United States and leveling the playing field, he said, for the middle class.

"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," he said.

The president also talked about the biggest thorn in his side — the House Republicans. In their year in the majority, the Republicans have tussled with Democrats over even the most basic functions of government. Voters are starting to understand that, Obama said, but that doesn't mean Democrats should stop trying to work with them.

"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," Obama said.

Americans are facing too many problems right now to stop trying, the president said.

"On the other hand, where they 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," Obama said.

That's a preview of Democrats' election message: They've done everything they can, they'll say, and Republicans have played politics.

Vice President Joe Biden spoke to the lawmakers earlier Friday, wondering out loud how the GOP can expect to govern when "compromise" is a dirty word.

"Who do you make a deal with? Who can you reach out and shake hands with and say, 'We have a bargain?' That's the way this country's always functioned," Biden said.

And as for the Republican presidential hopefuls, Biden said whoever is nominated — whether it's Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney or someone else — he will provide a stark contrast to how the Democrats approach governing.

"When these guys [are] out there saying, 'Let Detroit go bankrupt' or 'Poor people have no habit of working' or ... 'Barack Obama's the food-stamp president,' I think it's not just political theater. I really think they believe it," Biden said.

And that, said both Biden and Obama, may be an advantage for Democrats this election year. The message they are sending is so very different from the Republicans' message, they said, that come November, the choice voters have will be crystal clear.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Andrea Seabrook covers Capitol Hill as NPR's Congressional Correspondent.