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Speech decrying partisanship gets partisan response

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 24, 2013: WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama’s message in Missouri and Illinois on Wednesday for lawmakers to put aside partisanship and help middle class Americans was met mostly by – no surprise – political partisanship.

As new polls indicated growing public discontent with both the White House and Congress, Obama told students and others in Galesburg, Ill., and Warrensburg, Mo., that congressional Republicans – especially in the GOP-led U.S. House – had slowed the nation’s economic recovery by opposing his initiatives, which he said would help the middle class rather than the wealthy.

That populist theme elicited a predictable pushback from Republicans, with U.S Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., contending that Obama’s Midwest message sounded “an awful lot like his 2012 campaign speeches.”

In a Senate speech and during a session with reporters, Blunt said he was glad that Obama had chosen to visit the “innovation campus” at the University of Central Missouri at Warrensburg, a program that helps students become more competitive for jobs.

But Blunt, reflecting the message of the day for national Republicans, accused Obama of occasional “pivots” to the economy while he pursues other policies, some of which impede the creation of more private-sector jobs.

“We need to not just pivot to the economy, we need to stick with the economy,” said Blunt, urging the president to focus more consistently on jobs. He also bashed the administration’s energy policies, Obamacare, and budget deficits.

“Pivot” seemed to be the word of the day for GOP lawmakers across the country, who took aim at Obama’s Missouri and Illinois messages.

In Illinois, GOP members of Congress – including U.S. Reps. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, and Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville – said in a joint statement that Obama “made his 19th pivot back to what has always been most important to Americans, jobs and the economy.

“With its 9.2 percent unemployment rate, full-blown budget crisis and sky-high taxes, our shared home state of Illinois is an example of government making all the wrong economic choices.”

But some Democrats were delighted with Obama’s message and his decision to give it in Missouri and Illinois. U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., spent most of her 60th birthday with “my friend” the president, whom she described in a Tweet accompanied by a photo of the two of them on Air Force One:

“On my way to Missouri, laughing with my friend. I’m blessed, not a bad birthday.”

Meanwhile, MIssouri Gov. Jay Nixon met Obama's flight at Whiteman Air Force Base and was present at the college speech, but did not give separate remarks.

The Democratic Governor’s Association praised Obama’s Midwest speeches as presenting “a clear vision for how we grow our economy ... wisely based on the fundamental principle that our economy prospers most when it is built on the foundation of a strong, vibrant middle class.”

Taking a dimmer view of Obama's rhetoric, U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, said “it is always an honor to have the President of the United States visit the state you love regardless of their political affiliation.  And during a time when our country is divided with partisan bickering, we need a leader who is willing to bring us together.

“Maybe it’s just the ‘Show-Me State’ in me, but I’m ready for the President to stop giving speeches and start working towards solutions that will get our economy moving again," Wagner said. "Missourians are doers, and while speeches are nice, we want action.” 

Back in the state, Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones, a Republican from Eureka, said in a statement: “Our nation would be in a better place if, instead of spending all his time giving speeches filled with unrealized rhetoric about a better America, President Obama would actually work with Republicans to address the enormous problems facing our nation.”

Rob Koenig is an award-winning journalist and author. He worked at the STL Beacon until 2013.