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His second-term agenda on the line, President Barack Obama urged his most ardent supporters Monday to mount a summertime show of support that can rival any opposition Obama and Democrats may face from constituents next month. "We've got to get folks activated and involved," Obama declared.
Joined by top Democratic leaders, Obama addressed a non-profit group formed expressly to push his agenda, imploring its volunteers and donors not to let up the pressure in his waning years in office. Alluding to his own limitations despite being re-elected, he acknowledged "things still get stuck here in Washington" even when he delivers on his end.
"Naturally it's not going to be as full of razzmatazz as a campaign. First of all, we don't have a billion dollars to spend," Obama said. "Nonetheless, in some ways this stuff is more important."
But even with his last election behind him, the event had a campaign feel as Obama stood before about 300 supporters of Organizing for Action, a group formed from the remnants of the president's 2012 campaign with the goal of building public support for his second-term priorities.
In barely a week, lawmakers will fan out across the country, returning to their home districts for the annual summer break. At town hall meetings and picnics and public events, they'll hear firsthand from constituents — most of whom, polls show, have had it with Washington and incessant partisan fighting.
With a tough path ahead for Obama's major goals — including an immigration overhaul, the economy and the rollout of his health care law — his supporters want to ensure that lawmakers of both parties return to Washington with a mandate to work with Obama. So, OFA, with a presidential assist, is seeking to get activists energized and ready to speak up.
The top Democrat in the House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, called OFA's supporters "ambassadors who will reach out to the public to make sure they understand what is at stake."
"Nothing is more eloquent to a member of Congress than the voice of his or her own constituent," Pelosi said.
And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., whose efforts to enact Obama's priorities have run up against opposition from the Republican minority, vowed not to let up the fight either. He poked a bit of fun at his GOP counterpart, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who is expecting to face a primary challenge in his own re-election next year.
"He tried to make love to the tea party — and they didn't like it," Reid said.
But for all the buoyant talk — Pelosi spoke of Democrats possibly retaking the House next year — the proactive move to rally the party faithful may also reflect a lurking concern for Obama and Democrats that the August recess could give opponents an opening. Democrats say they're anticipating a concerted effort by conservatives to show lawmakers they want Obama's agenda stopped in its tracks — and that they'll punish those who go along with his proposals in the next election.
After all, it was during the same period in Obama's first term when a burgeoning tea party, incensed by Obama's health care proposals, showed up in full force at town halls in 2009. A year later, Obama's party lost control of the House and hemorrhaged seats in the Senate, dealing a major blow to Obama's agenda in what the president described as a "shellacking."
Republicans said Obama's time would be better spent finding a way to work with Congress rather than reverting to campaign tactics to knock Republicans.
"The president needs help spinning Americans during August recess because his speeches haven't started hiring," said Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski.
Democrats are trying to build momentum on a range of issues including an immigration overhaul, which cleared the Senate but faces an uncertain future in the House; expanded gun background checks, which stalled in Congress; and measures to curb climate change, which the president is pushing independently from Congress.
Obama is also working to implement complex elements of his health care law despite continued resistance from Republicans and headaches over delays and glitches.
Jon Carson, OFA's executive director, said the group would celebrate Obama's Aug. 4 birthday by "celebrating and defending and explaining and promoting" his health care law, then hold events the next week to call out lawmakers who question man-made climate change.
The group's chairman, Jim Messina, who served as Obama's 2012 campaign manager, noted the immigration bill garnered bipartisan support in the Senate. "Now we're going to force it through the House," Messina declared.
Obama is also revving up for a series of speeches starting Wednesday aimed at building support ahead of upcoming budget deadlines and a likely battle with Republicans over the nation's borrowing limit.
"I've got a little over 1,200 days left in office," Obama said to melancholy moans from his die-hard supporters. "I am going to spend every waking minute of every one of those days thinking about — and then acting upon — any good ideas out there that are going to help ordinary Americans succeed."
Organizing for Action, which is run by former White House and campaign aides, has tried to build public pressure on lawmakers to enact Obama's second-term agenda. The group raised more than $8 million between April and June.
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