Push agenda, expose GOP tactics, Obama implores Democratic senators

By Ben Feller
Associated Press / February 4, 2010

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WASHINGTON - In a blunt election prescription for his own skittish party, President Obama implored Democratic leaders yesterday to swing big, be honest with an angry public, and expose any GOP obstructionism.

“We still have to lead,’’ Obama told Democratic senators in a pep talk that unfolded on live television.

That comment alone revealed how much the political dynamic has changed in just two weeks, as Senate Democrats watched their voting numbers slip from 60 to 59 in a special Massachusetts election that sent shudders through the party. That one vote cost them the muscle to overcome Republican stalling tactics, forcing the Democratic president to adapt in hopes of salvaging his agenda and helping his party keep control of both houses of Congress.

His advice: Get results, and this year’s midterm elections will work out fine.

Let policy be our politics, Obama told the senators, and make sure everyone knows about petty acts by the opposition.

Obama’s mission is to stiffen the resolve of his own party as he pursues an agenda that is consistent - creating jobs, overhauling health insurance, regulating Wall Street - yet is also cast in more personal, real-life terms.

So Obama offered specific tactical guidance to a room full of senators with decades of election experience, including a handful who face difficult campaigns this year and got most of the camera time with the president.

The president said lawmakers should do more business in the public eye; tell voters honestly that some problems will take a long time to solve; stop listening to cable TV shows that obsess about Washington’s politics; make a case for overhauling health care without getting bogged down by insider minutia; and call out Republicans when gamesmanship holds up votes.

Obama said he’s still confident the American people will reelect leaders who do the right thing and explain it well.

The election season could be hard for Democrats. The party in power traditionally sustains midterm losses, and the public is in a sour mood.

The president said he meant it when he told House Republicans that he wants to work with them. Then he sharply added: “We’ll call them out when they say they want to work with us and we extend a hand and get a fist in return.’’

Obama called on senators to remember the ideals that propelled them to run for office in the first place.

“If anybody is searching for a lesson from Massachusetts, I promise you the answer is not to do nothing,’’ Obama said. He later told senators to avoid their instinct in tough times to “tread lightly, keep your head down, and to play it safe.’’