President Obama felt their pain Tuesday evening.
With his jobs plan headed for defeat in the Senate, Obama met with four unemployed construction workers in an Orlando bar and raised a toast to a better tomorrow. Or, perhaps, he was drowning his sorrows.
“To more jobs,” the president said, raising a pint of Guinness. They clinked glasses.
“You guys are what this country is all about,” he told them, presumably meaning middle-class workers rather than temporarily unemployed.
The visit to the Harp and Celt Restaurant & Irish Pub, which lasted 30 minutes, came as Obama was in Florida, a critical swing state, for two fundraisers for his 2012 re-election campaign. White House aides billed the meeting as a chance for the president to hear from ordinary workers who are struggling through the tough economy and to talk to them about his $447 billion American Jobs Act.
The bar smelled like stale beer. It was mostly empty except for a couple customers in back, along with restaurant workers and some White House aides. Obama and the construction workers sat at a table near the door.
The wooden table had a large half-eaten plate of nachos in the center, along with four bottles of Budweiser. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, who was traveling with the president, also joined the group. As the group of six talked, someone brought Obama a Guinness.
“Look at that,” he said, examining it. “Now that looks good.”
Dyer thought so too. “Is that a Guinness?” he said. “Can I get one of those, too?”
The workers told Obama about their personal situations, including one man who had lost his home and another who was struggling to keep his, said Patricia Mooney-Hildebrand, who was one of the workers at the table.
Mooney-Hildebrand, 56, a welder from Titusville who has been working off and on since 2008, said she talked to the president about the need for him to focus on infrastructure projects that go beyond roads and bridges. She has worked on modernization projects at the Kennedy Space Center, for example, and was disturbed to see the steel and pipes made in Poland, China and South Korea.
“We need to go back to the old saying of ‘proudly made in the USA,’” Mooney-Hildebrand said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “Instead of all the money that is going to unemployment compensation, they should put that money toward the subsidizing of raw materials.”
She said that she continues to support Obama but finds it tough to deal with the “naysayers” who she runs into in Titusville. The other day, she was at the doctor’s office when one man began ranting that the country would be better off had it elected Ross Perot, instead of Bill Clinton, in 1992.
At the dry cleaning shop, Mooney-Hildebrand said, she asked the owners if they wanted her to relay a message to the president. “No comment,” the wife snapped back.
“She was an Obama hater,” Mooney-Hildebrand said. “I was wearing a Johnson space center shirt, so her husband said to tell him, ‘I would like my tax dollars spent on the international space station and not on foreign wars.’ I told him if I talked to him, I would tell him that. And I did.”
Asked about the Senate blocking Obama’s jobs bill, Mooney-Hildebrand said Republicans in Congress are “going to ‘no, no, no’ him for 14 months” until the election.
After about 30 minutes, Obama left the bar and his motorcade proceeded to another fundraiser.
“I am very concerned,” Mooney-Hildebrand said. “I don’t know how to turn the naysayers around. These ‘Negative Nancys’ are hard to turn around. I don’t know the answer. But I did tell him I would support him 100 percent and do everything I can to try to get all Americans to work together.”