CAMBRIDGE, Md. — President Obama and Vice President Biden on Friday worked to rally congressional Democrats preparing to do battle with Republicans leading into the 2012 election.
In remarks at the annual House Democratic retreat near the shore of the Chesapeake Bay, Obama rallied the House Democrats with a campaign-style speech in which he defended Democrats’ legislative accomplishments over the past three years, acknowledged that lawmakers have had to make some “tough decisions” and reprised many of the arguments he made in Tuesday’s State of the Union address.
“We righted the ship,” he said. “We did not tip into a Great Depression. The auto industry was saved. Credit started flowing to small businesses again. And over the last 22 months, we have seen 3 million jobs created, the most jobs last year since 2005. . . . A lot of that has to do with the tough decisions that you took.”
Obama left the tough talk to Biden, who earlier Friday delivered searing criticism of GOP leaders and the presidential field.
Biden blasted House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — as well as GOP presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich — by name, arguing that Republicans are out of step with the middle class and that their sole goal is to obstruct the White House.
“Boehner, Cantor and McConnell, they made it clear,” Biden told the more than 100 Democrats gathered at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay. “It’s about obstructing the president’s agenda. It’s about defeating Barack Obama.”
Biden said congressional GOP leaders have adopted a “political strategy of obstruction and division” and predicted voters, tired of dissension, will reelect Obama and return Democrats to the majority in the House.
Their remarks came on the third and final day of the annual House Democratic retreat, where Democrats are gearing up to go on offense against their GOP counterparts as they try to win back the House.
House Republicans held a similar retreat last week, as both parties draw up their legislative agendas for a year likely to be dominated by campaigning and political point scoring.
The two speeches came as Democrats were dealt some good news Friday morning, when newly released figures showed that at the end of last year, the U.S. economy had grown at its fastest pace in 18 months.
Still, Obama’s approval rating has fallen from 54 percent this time last year to 48 percent, according to Washington Post/ABC News polling, a sign of the difficulty he will face as he seeks reelection.
Obama did not cite any congressional GOP leaders or members of the Republican presidential field by name.
But he offered a full-throated defense of the ideas laid out in his State of the Union address, arguing that the tax code must be mended to ask the wealthy to contribute more to pay down the debt and prevent deep cuts in military spending.
“Nobody envies rich people,” Obama said. “Everybody wants to be rich. Everybody aspires to be rich, and everybody understands you’ve got to work hard . . . The question is, are we creating opportunity for everybody, which requires some investments, and the question is, how do we pay for that?”
When it comes to the military and other necessities, Obama said, “all those things cost money.”
“We’ve got to pay for them. And if we’re serious about paying for them, then, yes, we’ve got to cut out programs that don’t work. . . . But we’ve also said at a certain point, you know what, everybody’s got to participate in this,” he said.
Of the GOP field, he said only that “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.”
A year ago, relations between Obama and congressional Democrats had appeared strained because of a contentious battle over a tax-cut deal during the 2010 lame duck session.
If Obama’s enthusiastic reception by Democrats on Friday was any indication, that relationship appears to have thawed.
A House Democratic aide confirmed that members presented Obama with a recording of House Democrats singing their own version of the Al Green song “Let’s Stay Together,” a symbol of their unity.
Obama, who sang a line from the tune at a fundraiser last week at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, joked about the recording as he took the stage to give his remarks.
Obama received the only copy of the song, according to the aide.
“I believe in you guys,” Obama said. “You guys have had my back through some very tough times.”
Staff writer Paul Kane contributed to this report.