Microphone in hand, Republican Rep. Jim Renacci gave his constituents a grim report on Washington's gridlock.
House Republicans, he said, had passed a number of bills that would boost energy production, cut regulations and rein in spending. But, he added, President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats haven't done their part.
"It's not the easiest thing when you only control one-third of the federal government," said Ohio's Renacci, faulting the Democrats who control the Senate and the White House for the stalemate as he flipped through a series of PowerPoint slides intended to send a message that Republicans are focused on "Making Washington Work."
This summer at the behest of their leaders, House Republicans like Renacci are fanning out across the nation to press this anti-Washington, blame-Democrats pitch at town hall-style meetings. They're trying to counter claims that they are responsible for a "do nothing" House and feed on the public's antipathy for anyone linked to Washington. They gloss over the fact that they are in control of the House and have played a significant part in the inaction on a host of issues, suggesting that there's little they can do in the face of what they call Democratic roadblocks.
The message suggests partisan battles are ahead this fall when Congress returns to Capitol Hill and also could preview the GOP's likely argument to voters in next year's midterm congressional elections — keep Republicans in control of the House so they can provide a check on Obama's power.
Democrats say the GOP argument will fall flat because Republicans control the House.
During a news conference earlier this month, Obama said Republicans had shown an "ideological fixation" with repealing the health care law, his signature legislative achievement, and there was "not even a pretense now that they're going to replace it with something better."
"It's a totally cynical playbook designed to mislead the American public," said Democratic strategist Jeremy Bird, a former Obama campaign aide. "They've been the most obstructionist branch of government, perhaps in American history."
Republicans are trying nonetheless.
About 60 miles west of Charlotte recently, Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., tried to commiserate with a public that doesn't look kindly on the capital, saying: "If you're frustrated sitting here in Polk County, imagine how frustrated I am going there and seeing it up close." In upstate New York, Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., told people at a pig roast that "we need to be fighting Washington, D.C. We need to be standing up for our rights."
And in Lincoln, Ill., GOP Rep. Aaron Schock told an audience at a coffee shop that the Democratic-controlled Senate had "sat on their hands" while the House sought to repeal Obama's health care law. "The president right now is doing a very good job of trying to make it look like the House is dysfunctional," Schock said. "Really what we're trying to do is carry out the wishes of the people."
Back in Ohio, a standing-room-only crowd of more than 100 greeted Renacci in Orrville, home of The J.M. Smucker Co., famous for its Smucker's jams and jellies.
After a short film describing a typical day, Renacci walked his constituents through a 30-minute slide presentation that focused on steps he and House Republican colleagues had taken to spur job growth, promote diverse sources of homegrown energy and tame the federal deficit.
He made no apologies for opposing Obama's health care law, citing it as a reason why many businesses had decided not to expand their work force.
"I am definitely one of those people who have voted to repeal Obamacare 40 times," he said.
During a question-and-answer session, Jared Bauman, a 26-year-old physical therapist, said he agreed with Renacci on the flaws of the health care law but said he had grown impatient with the House's repeated attempts to repeal the law.
"It just kind of gets a little frustrating. I start to roll my eyes. OK, we're not getting anywhere," he said.
When several attendees pressed the congressman to support comprehensive immigration reform, Renacci said the immigration system was broken but securing the border had to be the first priority. He repeatedly cited the length of the Senate bill as a reason to oppose it.
"We'll get immigration reform right by making sure we avoid mistakes of the past. You know what the mistakes of the past are? Let's throw 2,400 pages in a big bill, let's throw it out there, let's let people understand it after we pass it," Renacci said. "That's not going to happen again."
Many of his constituents' questions and comments turned to a general unease with Congress and the Obama administration.
"Is everyone in Washington that out of touch?" asked one man.
Renacci took the comment in stride, joking about Washington's reputation for being a foreign place to the rest of the nation while also adding: "Look there are some really good people in Washington."
Associated Press writer Bill Barrow in Lincolnton, N.C., contributed to this report.
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