Assertive Obama goes on offense in the East Room

AP News

10/6/2011 5:05:51 PM - AP News

He deployed hand chops, finger wags, furrowed brows. He was sarcastic, demanding, partisan.

"I'm not going to cave to the competition," President Barack Obama declared midway through Thursday's news conference.

He was talking about America's economic rivals abroad. But he could just as well have been referring to his Republican antagonists at home.

Obama, so often partial to a measured, professorial mien, opened his hour-plus news conference by throwing down a marker to the Republicans who have dared to dis his jobs plan.

"Why would you be opposed?" he demanded of those who are against his jobs proposal.

"Any senator out there who's thinking about voting against this jobs bill when it comes up for a vote needs to explain exactly why."

Standing ramrod straight, Obama kept up the newly aggressive tone that he's adopted as the 2012 campaign approaches, punctuating his words with the single hand chop, the double hand chop and the bouncing fist.

To enumerate key points, he'd raise a balled-up hand, then extend the thumb, next the pointer and work his way down to the pinkie.

Like a parent admonishing a child, Obama laid out a stern _ and utterly unrealistic _ "expectation" that every legislator would vote for the jobs bill.

"They should love this plan," he insisted.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner, appearing at a Washington Ideas Forum not far away, threw cold water on any such notion, with a scold of his own: "We're legislating. He's campaigning."

Obama didn't just call out Republicans in Congress. His admonishments extended to those vying to run against him.

"You've got Republican presidential candidates whose main economic policy proposals is, we'll get rid of the financial reforms that are designed to prevent the abuses that got us into this mess in the first place," Obama said. "That does not make sense to the American people."

For all his exhortations for Republican cooperation, the president's intended audience was clearly the American voters who will decide whether he gets another four years in the Oval Office. He mounted the kind of spirited offense that disenchanted liberals have often found lacking in his first term, and that is aimed at repairing his sagging approval ratings.

Vice President Joe Biden acknowledged the Democratic ticket's peril as he spoke at the same forum where Boehner appeared.

Americans are hurting financially, many have stagnant wages and a significant majority thinks the country's not moving in the right direction, the vice president volunteered.

"That is never a good place to be going into an election," Biden said. But he added that he's counting on Americans to exercise good judgment in ultimately determining that he and Obama are on the right course.

Back in the East Room, one questioner asked Obama if he was worried that he'd lost his widely praised "powers of persuasion."

"Well, no," Obama said.

Then came a long discourse on the causes of cynicism in American society and the frustrations that people are feeling.

The presidential finger of blame was pointed, again, at Republicans in Congress.

"What the American people saw is that Congress didn't care _ not just what I thought; they didn't care about what the American people thought," Obama said, referring back to the fractious debate over raising the national debt limit.

The president also acknowledged, though, that he had used up a considerable amount of political capital fighting the economic wars of his first term.

"And I've got the dings and bruises to prove it," he said.

The president said his door remains open to those who want to negotiate. But the chummy overtures to Republicans of weeks and months past were gone, replaced with sarcasm.

He treated the Republicans' proposals for creating jobs with derision.

"Their big ideas, the ones that make sense, are one we're already doing," he said.

"It's not enough."

He proposed a "little homework assignment" to prove his point: Ask the Republicans for their jobs plan, he suggested, and have it evaluated by budget analysts to determine what it would do for the economy.

"I see some smirks in the audience because you know that it's not going to be real robust," he told reporters.

He had a ready suggestion for how voters would respond to Republicans in Congress if they don't get with his program.

"If Congress does nothing," Obama said, "then it's not a matter of me running against them. I think the American people will run them out of town."