President Barack Obama brought the campaign for his jobs bill to a sun-drenched parking lot outside Abraham Lincoln High School in southwest Denver on Tuesday.
Calling himself a “warrior for the working class,” a peppy Obama repeatedly urged Republicans in Congress to “pass the bill,” a $447 million proposal he said combines tax cuts for working families and small businesses with increased spending on infrastructure and government jobs, including teachers.
A crowd estimated at more than 5,000 — although the ranks thinned a bit during the hours standing under the sun, as at least a dozen audience members were overcome by the heat — gave Obama a warm reception as the president made repeated references to Lincoln High and its mascot, the Lancers.
Obama evoked the loudest cheers of the afternoon when he accused Republicans of playing politics with economic proposals, he said, that the country needs to adopt right away.
A crowd of more than 5,000, including these people on an elevated stage, endured hours of brutal sunshine to hear President Barack Obama speak.
Noting that the American Jobs Act — he waved an inch-thick copy of the legislation introduced earlier this month following a speech to Congress — contained proposals that have been endorsed, at one time or another, by members of both parties, Obama thundered that some Republicans have even said “they still shouldn’t pass it because it might give me a win.”
With an incredulous look to the crowd, Obama paused for a moment and then continued: “Think about that. Give me a win? Give me a break!”
While the GOP-controlled House — and even some Democratic senators — give the bill almost no chance of emerging from Congress in anything resembling its original form, Obama said that, nonetheless, that’s what he expects.
“It’s been two weeks since I sent it to Congress,” he said. “Now I want it back. I want it back so I can sign this jobs bill and start putting people to work. I’ve got the pens all ready, all lined up on my desk, ready to sign this bill.”
Republicans didn’t share the crowd’s enthusiasm and dismissed Obama’s rhetoric even before he had delivered the 22-minute speech.
“The president is not really here because he’s concerned about jobs for Coloradans,” said Colorado Republican Party chairman Ryan Call in a conference call with reporters hours before Obama landed in the state, “but because the president is really here to campaign in a crucial swing state because he is concerned about his own job.”
Calling the jobs bill “Stimulus 2.0,” Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, who joined Call speaking with reporters, declared the proposal a nonstarter with his party.
The bill, he said, “isn’t a plan to put our country back to work. It’s a rehash of the same failed policies from the first stimulus that didn’t create jobs and saddled future generations with more debt.”
Call’s counterpart, state Democratic Party chairman Rick Palacio, said Obama had done exactly what he needed to do in his quick visit to Colorado, which was to drive home the importance of the jobs bill.
“It’s a bill that will create jobs, it’s fully paid for, and it’s based upon policy items that have been supported by Democrats and Republicans in the past,” Palacio said after Obama’s speech. “There’s no reason not to do this.”
Lincoln represents a part of Obama’s strategy to win Colorado’s nine electoral votes in next year’s election.
With one of the highest percentages of Latino students in the state, Lincoln can also point to some of the biggest strides made by any Denver Public Schools campus, albeit starting from low in the rankings. Obama won Colorado by a 9-point margin three years ago and, despite sinking approval ratings and a rough economy in the state, organizers say a burgeoning Latino vote and high turnout in communities like those that surround Lincoln will be the key to a repeat performance.
Obama was introduced by Lincoln senior Amelia Sanchez, who said she only learned a few days prior that school officials were offering her a “great opportunity to speak in front of 5,000 people,” but she didn’t learn until Monday that she would be introducing the president.
She called the whole thing “a great experience, especially just meeting him,” but added that, “it was really nerve-wracking.” Sanchez visited with Obama backstage, where he asked her about her career plans and learned she wants to become a pediatrician, an aspiration the president mentioned in his speech.
In addition to calling for spending to pay for construction workers to rebuild crumbling bridges and modernize out-of-date schools, Obama also included a call to raise taxes on “millionaires and billionaires,” while keeping in place a reduction in the payroll-tax rate that Republicans have said they’re willing to let expire. He said the GOP needs to match its rhetoric with its votes.
“If Congress doesn’t act — if Congress refuses to pass this bill — middle-class families will get hit with a tax increase at the worst possible time,” Obama said. “We can’t let that happen. Republicans say they’re the party of tax cuts — well, let them to prove it.”
Invoking Nebraska billionaire Warren Buffett, who regularly complains that he shouldn’t pay a lower tax rate than his secretary, Obama called it “just common sense” to rewrite the tax code so wealthier Americans pay a greater share.
“Of course,” he said, “the Republicans in Congress call this class warfare. Well you know what? If asking a billionaire to pay the same tax rate as a plumber makes me a warrior for the working class, I will accept that, I’ll wear that charge as a badge of honor.” Then he tossed the charge back at his accusers: “The only warfare I’ve seen is the battle that’s been waged against middle class families in this country for a decade now.”
It was Obama’s first visit to Colorado since he attended a round of fundraisers for U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet in downtown Denver last February. A year earlier, Obama signed the $787 billion stimulus bill at a museum in Denver and held a town hall on health care reform in Grand Junction later that summer.
But Obama’s most memorable visits to the state were probably the night he accepted his party’s 2008 nomination for president at Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium during the Democratic National Convention and a campaign speech at Civic Center Park that drew a crowd estimated at over 100,000.
The decidedly smaller and briefer rally at Lincoln came at the tail end of an Air Force One swing that also took Obama to Washington State and California, where he attended a town hall meeting in Silicon Valley and a number of fundraisers. (Democratic operatives at the Lincoln event said the Obama campaign is planning a fundraiser in Denver near the end of October but that details haven’t been hammered out yet.)
Former Denver Mayor Federico Peña, who filled two Cabinet posts during the Clinton administration and was an early Obama backer, said he was glad to see the 2008 version of Obama back on stage.
“I like the fact the president was fighting,” Peña said after the speech. “He was firm, he was a man of conviction, he laid out a very specific proposal. I think that’s what his base has been wanting to see again — the president we saw when he was campaigning, with fire, with emotion, and you know where he stands.”
As for the president’s reelection prospects in Colorado, Peña predicted that once voters have competing visions to consider, and not just a current president to complain about, they’ll stick with Obama.
“I think the president’s going to win in Colorado because, at the end of the day, people are going to look at his message, his ideas, and they’re going to contrast those to his opponent, whoever it is,” Peña said, adding that he believes voter are beginning to pay more attention to the role of Congress in blocking the president. “It’s going to be fine,” he concluded. “It’s going to be tough, but I think we’re going to win again in Colorado.”