The Washington Post

Obama holds ‘happy hour with the Democratic Party’

(Carolyn Kaster/AP) (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Speaking to the Democratic National Committee Friday night, President Obama defended his right to use executive authority and mocked Republicans for their obsession with the Affordable Care Act.

Obama leavened his sharp policy message--which focused on increasing the minimum wage and expanding health care access--with moments of levity, telling the crowd at the Capital Hilton, "Well, it's Friday. It's after 5:00. So this is now officially happy hour with the Democratic Party."

As the group laughed and applauded, the president added, "I can do that. It is an executive action. I have the authority."

During his remarks Obama emphasized several of the themes he has highlighted since his State of the Union speech, saying he was willing to work with Congress but will press ahead on his own to help middle-class Americans.

"Our job not just as Democrats, but as Americans, is to restore opportunity for all," he said. "That's why we're in this. Those are our values."

He suggested 2014 could be a "breakthrough year for America," in which Congress could work with the White House to raise the minimum wage and close tax loopholes and funnel the money to rebuilding the nation's infrastructure.

But at the same time Obama made it clear he didn't expect a breakthrough with congressional Republicans because of their determination to dismantle his health care law.

"Of course, for years now, rather than focusing on creating jobs or raising wages or helping more young people afford college, Republicans in Congress have been obsessed with one thing above all else. No, not Ted Nugent," he said, prompting a laugh. "They have been obsessed with repealing the Affordable Care Act. You know what they say: The 50th time is the charm."

"Maybe when you hit your 50th repeal vote you will win a prize," he joked. "Maybe if you buy 50 repeal votes you get one free."

The president admitted that the fall rollout of the law was flawed, adding, "But millions of Americans are more secure and will be more secure because of what we did."

He also mocked Republicans for struggling to connect with female voters, saying, "The problem isn't how they talk about their policies. The problem is their policies."

And he urged party members to redouble their efforts to mobilize voters for the fall, arguing that increased voter turnout was key to them making political gains.

"When Democrats vote, we win," he said. "There are more folks who believe in what we stand for than believe in what they stand for."

Two brief protests punctuated the event. As the president's motorcade approached the hotel about 10 protesters standing nearby shouted  "Stop Keystone" and held banners opposing the pipeline, which would ship heavy crude from Canada to the United States.

And during the speech an audience member yelled at one point, "Tell the public your plan -- tell us about your plan for nuclear war with Russia!"

Obama downplayed the matter, saying, "What the heck are you talking about?" The audience then drowned out the heckler with chants of "Obama. Obama. Obama. Obama."


Juliet Eilperin is The Washington Post's White House bureau chief, covering domestic and foreign policy as well as the culture of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.



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