House Democratic leaders said Thursday they welcome a campaign by President Barack Obama against a "do-nothing Congress" even though they're part of it.
"It's not only okay for the president to run against the Do-Nothing Congress. I encourage it," Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters as House Democrats held their annual three-day retreat on Maryland's Eastern Shore.
Democrats contend that such a re-election strategy would highlight Republican efforts to block Obama's agenda while calling attention to Senate rules that require 60 votes to move legislation. But Democrats hold 191 seats in the House and control the Senate, and voters in November could send both congressional Republicans and Democrats packing in a pox on both parties. Recent polls show record low approval ratings for Congress, with numbers dipping into the low teens.
"Eighty-five, eighty-six percent of people are upset with Congress. I'm with them," said Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House. "We had a president put a jobs bill on the agenda in September. We're now 120-plus days later and the Republicans refuse to put it on the table so we can consider it. And in the U.S. Senate, it's dysfunctional."
Just days after Obama's State of the Union address, Democrats gathered for the session talked of unity and enthusiasm even though they face a stiff challenge in November in trying to upend Republicans and reclaim the House. Recent economic indicators suggest a fiscal rebound and a Wall Street Journal-NBC poll showed more voters say the country is on the right track and approve of Obama's handling of the economy. The Republican presidential race also looked like it would stretch out for weeks after Newt Gingrich's win in South Carolina.
For the election-year showdown, the committee to help get House Democrats elected said Thursday they had raised more than $61 million last year and had $11.6 million cash on hand, wiping out a lingering debt. By comparison, the House Republicans said they have $15 million in their accounts as they look to keep their majority.
"The mood of the caucus is upbeat," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.
Vice President Joe Biden and Obama were scheduled to address the gathering on Friday.
Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said he would be "pleased to have the president highlight" Congress' work production.
"The better off we'll be in getting the American people to understand exactly why it is his agenda is stymied time and time again," he said, recalling the Senate filibusters of the 1960s that blocked landmark civil rights legislation.
"We Democrats were doing it then," Hoyer said. Clyburn quipped that those Southern Democrats are Republicans now.
The GOP responded that the president could go ahead and run against Congress. No matter what, the voters will be casting their ballots based on his tenure.
"The American people are asking, `Where are the jobs?' and the president's policies have made our economy worse, not better," said Kevin Smith, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. "The president can blame anyone he wants, but it won't change the fact that this year will be a referendum on his economic record."