The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Obama in New York: Forget Putin. GOP candidates ‘can’t handle a bunch of CNBC moderators’

At a Democratic fundraising event, President Obama poked fun at the Republican presidential field, saying, "They can't handle a bunch of CNBC moderators." (Video: AP, Photo: Susan Walsh/AP)

NEW YORK -- President Obama on Monday gleefully mocked the Republican presidential candidates who have called him weak on the world stage, suggesting the would-be tough guys "can't handle a bunch of CNBC moderators."

"Let me tell you, if you can’t handle those guys then I don’t think the Chinese and the Russians are going to be too worried about it," Obama said during an Democratic fundraiser at the Richard Rodgers Theater in Manhattan, drawing laughter and applause from a crowd of more than 1,300 supporters.

In some of his most barbed comments to date about the 2016 race, Obama appeared to relish poking fun at his rivals over their performance last week during a GOP debate broadcast on the cable network. Several of the candidates complained about the questions posed by the moderators and have demanded that the Republican National Committee and networks abide by a set of changes to debate rules in the future.

Obama arrived at the theater after a performance of the musical "Hamilton," loosely based on the life of former Treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton. Though he bemoaned not being able to see the show again -- noting that he and first lady Michelle Obama love the musical -- Obama delivered a version of his campaign stump speech with a particularly showy flourish.

Talking about GOP skepticism of climate change, Obama noted that a Republican member of Congress -- Sen. Jim Inhofe (Okla.), though the president didn't name him -- brought a snowball into the chamber to prove global warming was a fraud.

"I’m not making that up. That’s what happened. That’s crazy," Obama said. "I was going to quote [rapper] Kanye [West] but this is a family audience. But that's cray" -- meaning crazy.

Republicans, Obama said, just won't believe the facts.

“If you go to 100 doctors and 99 of them tell you you have diabetes … you wouldn’t say ahh, that’s a conspiracy," he said. "All 99 doctors got together with Obama to keep me from having bacon and donuts. You wouldn’t do that."

The audience roared with laughter.

After making the case that Americans are better off by virtually every measure than they were when he took office in 2009, Obama said: "I don’t know if the Republicans running for office know any of these things. Because they occupy a different reality it seems. According to them, everything was really good in 2008 when we were going through the worst economic crisis in our lifetimes, when we were hopelessly addicted to foreign oil, and when Osama [bin Laden] was still running loose."

After a beat he added: "This, apparently, was the golden age I messed up."

The appearance at the theater was the second of two fundraisers for Obama in New York. Earlier, at the home of hedge fund magnate George Soros, Obama rallied supporters to help elect Democrats to Congress next year, warning that maintaining control of the White House will not be enough for the party to build on his administration's accomplishments.

"I will do everything I can to make sure I’ve got a Democratic successor," Obama said at the fundraiser to benefit the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, "but that Democratic successor is going to need a Democratic Congress that is going to work with the president to advance the causes we care about."

With House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) among the dinner guests at the Soros home, the president added that "I need people to feel a sense of urgency about these congressional races. ... Health care would not have passed [in 2010] if Nancy Pelosi was not speaker of the House."

Obama is helping raise money for the 2016 campaign even though he has not yet begun campaigning for individual Democrats, including those running to succeed him. Earlier in the day, the president appeared in Newark to tout his administration's efforts to help ex-offenders assimilate into society after prison.

The president praised Republicans for helping pass a two-year spending bill, which he signed Monday morning before leaving Washington.

"I wish [former House Speaker] John Boehner had not waited until he was leaving until deciding to work with us on this, but I want to give credit where credit is due," Obama said at the Soros home. "Republicans worked with Nancy and [Senate Minority Leader] Harry [Reid] and the White House. That's the way it's supposed to work."

Obama then recalled a skit from comedian Chris Rock.

"Part of his act where he’s talking about guys bragging about things they're supposed to do anyway," Obama said. "They say, 'I take care of my kids.' You’re supposed to take care of your kids. 'I haven’t been to jail.' Well, you’re not supposed to go to jail.

"There is an element of a low bar in passing a budget ... but having said that, I do think it's important."