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Obama wants Ukraine to ‘de-escalate,’ focuses on campaigning for Democrats

Photo of Neil Munro
Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

President Barack Obama says he’s hoping to “de-escalate” the Crimean crisis, which would help him focus on his top priority — escalating U.S. political fights so his base turns out to vote in November.

By advancing into the Crimean region of the Ukraine, “the Russians are engaging in a fundamental breach of international law,” Obama told donors Tuesday night. ”We may be able to de-escalate over the next several days and weeks, but it’s a serious situation and we’re spending a lot of time on it,” he said at a fundraiser in McLean, Va. Obama did not tell the donors that he hoped to reverse the Russian takeover.

The modest goal of de-escalation reflects Obama’s desire to downgrade the crisis. In recent days, he’s tried to downplay the prospect of a further escalation. He’s also tried to rally European leaders to impose some sanctions on Russian trade and banking, and on travel by wealthy Russians.

Obama’s main focus during the fundraiser was boosting Democratic turnout in the midterm elections.

He sketched out plans to spike Democratic turnout in November via sharpened rhetoric and political fights.

“We are really good at presidential elections these days, if I do say so myself,” he said. But midterms are a problem, he said. “We get a little sleepy, we get a little distracted.  We don’t turn out to vote.  We don’t fund campaigns as passionately,” he said.

“That has to change and has got to change right here, because too much is at stake for us to let this opportunity slip by,” he added. “Everything that you all care about — advancing every issue that is of deep concern to you — depends on us successfully maintaining Democratic control of the Senate,” he said.

Obama hinted at some of his turnout-boosting wedge issues.

“If you care about the environment… If you care about women getting equal pay for equal work or having control over their health care decisions, or who is in the Supreme Court determining those laws… if you care about making sure that we’re investing in early childhood education and continuing to reform our schools to make them serve every child, you better make sure that we still have Democrats in control of the Senate,” he said.

On Wednesday, Obama will hold a rally in Connecticut to tout his election-year push for an increase in the minimum wage.

He’s also angling to boost Latino turnout, by working with big business to strong-arm the GOP into passing a bill that would increase migration. If passed, the bill would provide amnesty to at least 12 million illegals and roughly double the annual inflow of 1 million lower-wage immigrants for use by business.

Obama would be able to claim credit for the bill’s passage among immigrants to aid the Democrats in the long term.

If the bill fails, Obama can ignite a turnout-boosting fight against Republican legislators who didn’t vote for the bill.

So far, GOP leaders have rebuffed business advocates for greater immigration, and have avoided a pre-election split among their supporters.

Obama also sought to portray the GOP’s small-government goals as hostile to better government, and described the highly ideological progressive movement as non-ideological problem-solvers

“I know the Democrats in our Senate. They’re not a dogmatic bunch. They’re interested in what works,” he said.

He sought to blame the GOP for his administration’s failed policies.  “The problem of course is… the party on the other side,” Obama said about the GOP.

“There’s a segment of our loyal opposition that basically thinks that government has no role to play whatsoever in anything and have been spending most of their time trying to obstruct and grind the wheels of government to a halt rather than figuring out how do we make things work better and more efficiently,” he insisted.

Obama’s fundraiser was hosted by former Democratic Sen. Chuck Robb. The event also featured Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. The price for the few dozen donors ranged from $10,000 to $32,400. Obama is expected to attend another fundraiser Wednesday night.

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