Rousing Democrats for their fight to keep the Senate, President Barack Obama mounted a searing critique of the Republican Party on Wednesday, accusing his political foes of thwarting progress on everything from wages to scientific research and climate change.
In what's become an election-year routine for the president, Obama took the mic at an opulent Manhattan apartment and urged Democrats not to let their party's tendency to neglect midterm elections hand Republicans a chance to capture the Senate. Such a turn of events would essentially halt his agenda for his final two years in office.
"We have a party on the other side that has been captured by an ideology that says 'no' to everything," Obama said, "because they claim to a rigid theory that the only way to grow the economy is for the government to be dismantled."
In the past, such a bleak description of the Grand Old Party might have been an exaggeration, Obama said, but not anymore. Extending his critique to the Republican approach to winning elections, he charged that the GOP's "main election strategy is preventing people from voting" — a nod to voter ID laws and other restrictions that Democrats have opposed.
Obama's pep talk also included a healthy dose of tough love. He said his own party suffers from a "congenital disease" in which its supporters get revved up during presidential years, then fail to show up at the polls for midterm elections, hamstringing the party's prospects in Congress.
"We have to break that cycle," Obama told Democratic donors who packed the Upper East Side apartment belonging to Blair Effron. The investment banker and his wife hosted Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and a few dozen donors who paid $32,400 for the chance to see the president in person.
The sharp political talk from the president at a pair of Democratic fundraisers came at the halfway point of a two-day jaunt to New York that is bookended by official events — standard fare for Obama, who has visited New York a half-dozen times since winning re-election and headlined fundraisers for Democratic during almost every trip.
Obama started his day with a visit to Tarrytown, just north of New York City, where the rundown Tappan Zee Bridge served as the backdrop for a presidential pitch to Congress to spend more money on the nation's crumbling roads, hole-ridden bridges and outdated ports — or prepare to lose business and jobs to other countries.
"We've got ports that aren't ready for the next generation of cargo ships," Obama said, standing before cranes that are helping to build a replacement for the 58-year-old, 3-mile-long Tappan Zee. "We've got more than 100,000 bridges that are old enough to qualify for Medicare."
Obama used the major Hudson River crossing point north of New York and its $3.9 billion replacement project to illustrate a fast-track system he initiated that he said cut the permitting time from five years to 1 1/2 years. Without congressional action, he warned, the Highway Trust Fund that pays for transportation projects will soon run dry.
Republicans cried hypocrisy, blasting Obama for claiming credit for the expedited process while his administration has yet to decide the fate of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. The GOP is using that up-in-the-air project to bash Democrats ahead of the November elections.
Even as Obama and Republicans sought to bolster their case for the midterms, a whiff of the next key election permeated the air as Obama was introduced in Tarrytown by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is high on Democrats' list of potential candidates in 2016.
"We don't need a 'can't do' spirit. We need a 'can do' spirit. That's what Gov. Cuomo has," Obama said, praising the Democrat who could potentially compete against Obama's vice president or his former secretary of state for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Obama, who was traveling with first lady Michelle Obama, was to spend the night in New York before attending the dedication ceremony Thursday morning for the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center.