It was a busy news day for the political world yesterday, and President Obama’s speech in Cincinnati was largely overlooked. That’s a shame — the remarks were actually an example of the White House message coming together in ways we haven’t heard before.
The president spoke with the Brent Spence Bridge in the background, a main connecting point for Ohio and Kentucky. Obama joked that it was “purely accidental” that he picked a locale relevant to the constituents of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), but it was obviously not a coincidence — the president is presenting infrastructure investments as the centerpiece of his economic agenda, and that the fact that the Brent Spence Bridge has been deemed “functionally obsolete” — like John Boehner, one audience member shouted out — helps underscore the larger point.
But the speech didn’t just make an effective case for creating jobs by improving bridges, roads, highways, rails, and airports. He also did so by naming names and calling out “Republicans.”
“So my question is, what’s Congress waiting for? Why is it taking so long? … Part of the reason I came here is because Mr. Boehner and Mr. McConnell, those are the two most powerful Republicans in government. They can either kill this jobs bill, or they can help pass this jobs bill…. I know that when Senator McConnell visited the closed bridge in Kentucky, he said that, ‘Roads and bridges are not partisan in Washington.’ That’s great. I know that Paul Ryan, the Republican in charge of the budget process, recently said that ‘you can’t deny that infrastructure does creates jobs.’ That’s what he said.
“Well, if that’s the case, there’s no reason for Republicans in Congress to stand in the way of more construction projects. There’s no reason to stand in the way of more jobs. Mr. Boehner, Mr. McConnell, help us rebuild this bridge. Help us rebuild America. Help us put construction workers back to work. Pass this bill.”
Obama also responded to the most common GOP talking point.
“Now, the Republicans, when I talked about this earlier in the week, they said, well, this is class warfare. You know what, if asking a billionaire to pay their fair share of taxes, to pay the same tax rate as a plumber or a teacher is class warfare, then you know what, I’m a warrior for the middle class. I’m happy to fight for the middle class. I’m happy to fight for working people. Because the only warfare I’ve seen is the battle against the middle class over the last 10, 15 years.”
And he specifically called out McConnell’s misguided priorities.
“Maybe some of the people in Congress would rather settle their differences at the ballot box than work together right now. In fact, a while back, Senator McConnell said that his ‘top priority’ — number-one priority — was ‘to defeat the President.’ That was his top priority.
“Not jobs, not putting people back to work, not rebuilding America. Beating me. Well, I’ve got news for him, and every other member of Congress who feels the same way. The next election is 14 months away, and I’ll be happy to tangle sometime down the road. But the American people right now don’t have the luxury of waiting to solve our problems for another 14 months. A lot of folks are living paycheck to paycheck. A lot of folks are just barely getting by. They need us to get to work right now. They need us to pass this bill.”
It’s awfully difficult to have any optimism at all about the political process, especially with House Republicans poised to force another shutdown crisis. But there’s little doubt that the White House is very serious about the American Jobs Act, and is going all in, investing time, energy, and resources into this effort. Those hoping for real follow through from Obama are getting their wish.
And nearly as important, the president and his team are also sharpening their message — “I’m a warrior for the middle class” is a great, overdue line — and taking the fight to Republicans, directly and aggressively.
As a practical matter, a speech delivered at 3 p.m. on a weekday in Southwestern Ohio is going to have a limited audience. But that’s all the more reason for the White House to keep the pressure on, bringing the message to even more audiences.