President Barack Obama used his speech at Lake Harriet to highlight the economic progress he says America has made since he took office, while also laying blame for the lack of larger improvements squarely at Congressional Republicans' feet.
In front of a crowd of about 2,000 Friday morning, Obama asked Congress to work with him to make "basic changes" to solve a number of problems, ranging from the dwindling middle class, to women's wages, to immigration reform and more. In the meantime, Obama said he'll "move ahead" without them wherever he can.
He said families like Rebekah Erler's – a Twin Cities mother whose letter inspired him to start “day-in-the-life” visits around the country to bolster the middle class – aren't "splurging," or trying to get "fabulously wealthy" – yet at the end of the month are still tight on money.
He also sprinkled a few Minnesota morsels into the 35-minutes speech, including nods to his food stops Thursday, a mention of Aaron's Green Cleaning in Minneapolis, which starts employees at $15 an hour, and also a Minnesota Wild reference.
"The women are strong, the men are good-looking, the children are above average, and 95 percent of you are insured," he said early in the speech.
And while things may look bleak from the outside, like politics is broken, and the lack of new laws from Congress can be frustrating, Obama said, he is going to "keep fighting."
"Your cares and concern ... your hopes for your kids and your grandkids are my own," he said. "I'm not going to get cynical, I'm going to stay hopeful. And I hope you do too."
A few Republicans quickly offered counter arguments to some of the president's claims.
Rep. Joh Kline, who represents Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District, tweeted the following, linking to GOP leader Rep. Eric Cantor's page that shows a few dozen of that are described as "jobs bills" stuck in the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate.
The Star Tribune's Rachel Stassen-Berger tweeted a photo of a partial response from an RNC spokesman:
The Minnesota GOP also put out a press release Friday morning regarding Obama's lunch with Erler, who according to Reuters was once a field organizer for a Democratic senator.
“President Obama is so out of touch with reality that he thinks a former Democrat campaign staffer speaks for every Minnesotan,” MNGOP National Committeewoman Janet Beihoffer said in the statement. “By using a former political staffer to further his argument, Pres. Obama turned a policy debate into partisan political theater."
Before the speech
Before his speech, Obama made an unscheduled visit to the one of the Minnesota Workforce Development Center locations. Ben Garvin of the Pioneer Press tweeted its the one in north Minneapolis.
The Workforce Center is a government organization that aims to connect people with jobs. According to CBS News' Mark Knoller, Obama met U.S. Sen. Al Franken at a class that trains young mothers for customer service jobs.
In the speech, he said seeing the mothers at the class reminded him of his own mother, who gave birth to the now-president at the age of 18.
Franken's colleague Sen. Amy Klobuchar took the stage at Lake Harriet before the president's arrival. Tom Scheck with MPR reports the senator addressed minimum wage, and also called for bipartisan support of an immigration bill.
The scene at Lake Harriet
President Barack Obama has one more scheduled event during his two-day visit to Minnesota – a speech at the Lake Harriet Band Shell Friday morning, in which he'll address the economy. Roughly 2,000 people are expected.
A number of reporters are on the scene at Lake Harriet, and tweeting photos of the crowd.
And also the looming rain clouds.
Live quotes and updates
– Obama: "Your cares and concern ... your hopes for your kids and your grandkids are my own." Says he'll keep fighting for those hopes. "I'm not going to get cynical, I'm going to stay hopeful. And I hope you do too."
– "I'm here because Rebekah wrote to me, and I want her to know I'm listening."
– "It's easy to be cynical. In fact these days it's kind of trendy. Cynicism passes for wit."
– Obama: "If you're mad at me" for raising the minimum wage, addressing immigration, addressing women's wages, let's do something together. "I want to work with you, but you've got to give me something ... They don't do anything expect block me. And call me names. And it can't be that much fun. It'd be much more fun if they said, 'Let's do something together.'"
– Notes 13 states (including Minnesota) and DC have raised minimum wage themselves since Obama asked Congress to raise it. Says he got a letter from Minneapolis about Aaron's Green Cleaning in Minneapolis, which starts employees at $15 an hour.
– Obama on Congress: "I want to work with the Democrats and Republicans ... This is not a statement about partisanship. This is a statement about America and what we're fighting for." Not going to let gridlock, willful indifference, or greed threaten the hard work of families, he says. Going to move ahead without Congress wherever he can, he says.
– Country doesn't advance economically from the top down, Obama says.
– Congress Republicans blocked or voted down "every single serious idea to strengthen the middle class." On that list? Middle wage, fair pay, extending unemployment insurance, Obama says. Says their moves keep in place the system that helps folks at the top, but not families like the Erlers.
– Obama says he knows he's supposed to be careful about what he says, but lately feels like speaking his mind. Lots of cheers for that.
– "We're fighting so everybody has a chance. We're fighting to vindicate that idea that no matter what you look like ... who you love, who your parents are ... if you're being responsible and taking care of your family, you cane make it. And the fact is, we can do that." Just takes some "basic changes." "I know it drives you nuts that Washington isn't doing it. It drives me nuts." The reason it's not getting done? "Common sense ideas can't get through Congress."
– Obama says he thought of his own mother when he visited the Minnesota Workforce Center and a young mother job training program.
– Letters like Rebekah Erler's are a sign of hope. Hope that the system hears them, Obama says.
– Obama says Rebekah Erler wrote: "We did everything right ... but it's virtually impossible to live a comfortable middle-class life." Child care costs a big reason. Obama says he and wife Michelle, even with good jobs, went through the same thing. "They're not splurging. And at the end of the month, things are tight," Obama says of "wonderful" Erlers. Many people like that in audience. Not trying to get "fabulously wealthy," just trying to have comfortable life.
–By every economic measure, we are better off now than when I took office. You wouldn't know it, but we are. We've made some enormous strides. But that's not the end of the story. We have more work to do.
– Here in Minnesota "The women are strong, the men are good-looking, the children are above average, and 95 percent of you are insured." – Obama
– Past 51 months – Businesses are booming, tax code is fair, deficit cut in half, more than 8 million Americans have signed up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, Obama says.
– Obama said he gets 10 letters every day from staff to read, notjust good ones. A letter from Twin Cities woman Rebekah Erler letter "stood out," he said.
– "You guys have been great hosts Minnesota." -Obama
– "We had a town hall at Minnehaha Park. Where I did not take a kayak over the falls. That seemed dangerous." – Obama, in reference to this guy.