Obama slams Republicans in fiery election speech
By Stephen Collinson
WASHINGTON (AFP) – President Barack Obama fired off a sarcastic, no holds barred attack on Republicans Friday that made clear his focus is now more on mid-term elections than deal-making with his foes in Congress.
Though it was the last day of February, Obama’s speech to partisan Democrats was more in tune with the partisanship seen in the closing days of campaigns before November elections.
His broadsides had an almost surreal feel, as Obama arrived at the event at a Washington hotel amid a suddenly boiling foreign policy crisis with Russian accused of deploying troops to Ukraine.
Obama, in his second-year of his second term and with approval ratings down around 40 percent, has been tarnished by five years of political battles with Republicans.
His Democrats have almost no chance of recapturing the House of Representatives in November’s elections, and are in peril of also losing control of the Senate.
So the president’s political interventions are likely to be confined to firing up the party base and piling up tens of millions of dollars in campaign cash, rather than bailing out vulnerable candidates.
On Friday, Obama mounted a full throated defense of his administration and his under-fire health care law, while taunting Republicans over his two victorious White House runs.
“They just go on offering a theory of the economy that time and again has failed America,” Obama said, slamming Republicans for pushing tax policies he said favored the rich.
“They think we should drastically reduce or eliminate the safety net for more people,” Obama charged.
“I saw some Republicans in Congress brought in outside aides to teach them how to talk to women,” Obama said.
“It is unclear how they’ve gotten this far without that particular skill,” the president joked.
At one point, the deepening crisis with Moscow muscled in on the evening, with a heckler shouting: “tell us about your plan for nuclear war with Russia!”
Obama appeared amused by the intervention, joking the heckler had already been enjoying the Friday evening Happy Hour.
Deadlock in Congress -
The president insisted that he remained ready to talk to Republicans about working together to grow the economy and create jobs.
But he repeated his theme that if they were not interested in cooperation, he was ready to go it alone and use his executive powers to forge change.
“There are things we could be doing right now to help the American people, and we shouldn’t be doing nothing because there’s an election coming up.”
However, recent political developments in Washington leave little doubt that, even at this early stage, Republican and Democratic leaders have given up hope of significant legislation.
A big immigration reform bill that is backed by Republican top brass and Obama is stalled on Capitol Hill, with House Republicans loathe to cast a vote on a measure many grass roots conservatives see as an amnesty for illegal immigrants, in election year.
Similar tough votes are unlikely on a tax reform bill authored by a senior House Republican, which has been rebuffed by party leaders in the House and Senate.
Obama’s top aides meanwhile privately admit that his budget due to be released on Tuesday is little more than an aspirational document that has little chance of thwarting Republican opposition in Congress.
Should Republicans capture the Senate – they must pick up six seats in what is a tough year for Democrats with vulnerable lawmakers under pressure in conservative states – Obama would face a grim final two years in office.
He argued Friday that the election in November would not “just set the direction of this country for the next two years, it will set the direction for this country for years to come.”