National politics

President makes Denver visit

Tells crowd he's 'fighting for them' and progress is being made

Photo by Vic Vela
President Barack Obama addresses a Denver crowd July 9 at Cheesman Park.
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— By almost every measure, we are better off then when I took office.”
President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama told a Denver audience on July 9 that the country's economy is better off now than when he took office five years ago and blasted Republicans in Congress who "have blocked or voted down every serious idea to helping the middle class."

But Republicans shot back against a "lonely" president whose low approval ratings they believe scared off some local Democratic officeholders from attending Obama's speech in central Denver's Cheesman Park.

The president's speech came the night after he raised money for Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, who is in a tight re-election bid against U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner. Udall stayed in Washington for a vote on a cabinet nominee and did not attend the fundraiser or Obama's speech the next day.

Obama touted an economy that has produced 10 million jobs since he took office during the Great Recession in 2009, and pointed to a national unemployment rate that is at its lowest point since that year.

"What I want to make sure of is, as screwed up sometimes as Washington gets, that everybody understands that there's progress to be made and that there's someone here who is fighting for them, even though it can feel like the system is rigged against them," the president said.

Obama pointed to an improved housing and construction environment; an automobile industry that is making strides; and greater energy independence as key factors that are driving an economy that was in dire straights prior to him taking office.

"So despite what you may here, there is no doubt we are making progress," Obama said. "By almost every measure, we are better off then when I took office."

The president also defended recent executive actions that have irked Republicans. Obama said that he has taken it upon himself to make changes to immigration policy, rising student loan debt and pay discrepancies between men and women because the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has blocked his policy initiatives at every turn.

Obama then took a shot at Republican House Speaker John Boehner for suing the president by claiming that he has overstepped his authority by sidestepping Congress while taking his own action on certain policy areas.

"Now, I gather that some of the Republicans in Congress are mad at me for going ahead and doing things," Obama said. "...They have a plan to sue me for taking executive actions that are within my authority, while they do nothing.

"I have a better idea. They should do something rather than engage in political stunts that are a waste of time and tax payer money; join me and let's do some things together."

Instead of joining in, area Republicans pounced on the president's visit to Colorado. They see Obama as a weak and unpopular president who key Democrats running for re-election this fall are avoiding.

Polls show that Obama's approval ratings are abysmal. And Republicans said it is no wonder that Democrats such as Gov. John Hickenlooper and Udall didn't attend the president's speech July 9.

State Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call blasted Obama's record as having failed working families and having caused many Coloradans to lose a previously existing health care plan as a result of the Affordable Care Act - the president's signature piece of legislation.

"President Obama, Sen. Udall and Gov. Hickenlooper have had their chance to make things better, but they have failed," Call said in an e-mailed statement. "Coloradans are ready to elect new leaders who will listen to the people of Colorado, and not be a rubberstamp for President Obama's same, tired policies."

Hickenlooper's office said the governor was not dodging the president and that he had a prior engagement that had been booked well before Obama's speech - which was announced on July 7. The governor did get together with Obama to drink beer and play pool with him in downtown Denver the night before his speech.

Udall, meanwhile, stayed in Washington to cast a vote in support of Obama's nominee to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development - an appointment that was confirmed by the Senate with overwhelming support.

The Udall campaign also shot back against Republican criticism against the senator's absence from Obama's events by citing a report that Gardner had attended a Republican event that was sponsored by GOP operative Karl Rove during last year's budget shutdown.

"Mark's commitment to putting his job as a senator first stands in stark contrast to Congressman Cory Gardner, whose campaign has attacked Mark for NOT skipping today's vote, and who famously hobnobbed with Karl Rove after voting to shutdown the government last fall," said Chris Harris, a communications director for the Udall campaign.

In an effort to put aside the politics of his visit, Obama said in his Denver speech that he will continue to push policies on his own in polarized Washington - policies that he believes will help "ordinary Americans."

"We're fighting for the idea that everybody gets an opportunity no matter what you look like or where you're from or who you love or how you grew up or what your last name is," the president said. "America is a place where you should be able to make it if you try."