CAMBRIDGE, Md. — House Democrats have a message for President Obama: Let’s stay together.
“All of you participated in a rendition of Al Green,” Obama said to cheers and applause from the assembled Democrats. Obama had famously belted out a line from the tune at a fundraiser last week at Harlem’s Apollo Theater.
Obama added that Democrats have “a reverend who can preach as good as Al Green in John Larson,” the House Democratic caucus chairman who delivered a rousing introduction of Obama on Friday.
A House Democratic aide confirmed that members recorded the song for Obama and said the choice was “a caucus decision.” Obama received the only copy of the song, according to the aide.
In remarks lasting less than half an hour, 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 same arguments that he made in his Tuesday State of the Union address.
He opened with a nod to “soon-to-be-once-again speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi,” then argued that Democrats did what was necessary to save the country from economic collapse.
“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 and Democrats were dealt some good news Friday morning as 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 its current 48 percent, according to Washington Post/ABC News polling, a sign of the difficulty he will face as he seeks reelection in 2012.
In contrast to Vice President Joe Biden, who addressed the Democrats earlier Friday, Obama did not cite any congressional GOP leaders or members of the Republican presidential field by name. He noted only that “the other side doesn’t always believe in this agenda” and criticized Republicans broadly as “think(ing) the only subsides worth providing are subsidies to oil companies.”
He also argued that among the “tough decisions” Democrats had made were the recent legislative efforts to slice federal spending, hailing lawmakers for making “some of the toughest cuts we’ve ever made.”
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.
He argued against a “tax code full of loopholes for folks who don’t need them and weren’t even asking for them.” And he directly rebutted Republicans’ argument that Democrats are waging “class warfare” campaign based on the “politics of envy.”
“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?”
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, due to a contentious battle over a tax-cut deal during the 2010 lame duck session.
Now, that relationship appears to have thawed, if the enthusiastic reception Obama received on Friday was anything to go by.
“I believe in you guys,” Obama said. “You guys have had my back through some very tough times.”