President Barack Obama hosted his first fundraiser for his Oval Office campaign group on Wednesday evening, and he told his wealthy donors that their checks will help Democratic and Republican politicians vote against the wishes of their own constituents.
“If you have a senator or a congressman in a swing district who is prepared to take a tough vote … on immigration reform, or legislation around background checks for guns, I want to make sure that they feel supported and that they know that there are constituencies of theirs who agree with them, even if they may be getting a lot of pushback in that district,” he declared to the roughly 70 attending donors who are fueling his unprecedented group, dubbed Organizing For Action.
“If we do it well, then I’m confident that we can move strong immigration legislation … we can get common-sense gun safety legislation … we can craft a budget that is responsible,” he declared.
The group’s support — and pressure — could also be aimed at Democratic politicians worried about supporting his agenda, he hinted.
Throughout his speech, he deflected growing bipartisan criticism over his group, which is accepting money from wealthy donors — although not from company accounts or from people who have registered as lobbyists.
That criticism has come from Common Cause, Democracy 21, the Washington Post editors, some reporters, and other liberal groups. (RELATED: Left-wing group urges Obama to close down the operation)
But the protests have not prompted any Democratic legislators, judges or regulators to set curbs on the president’s meeting with his donors, or on his government decisions, which could help or hurt those donors.
To defend his fundraising, he said his political rivals use “special interest groups and well-financed organizations.”
But his supporters are “true believers,” he insisted.
“One of the things I’m proudest of during the course of two campaigns where we raised an awful lot of money is that the people who got involved didn’t ask me for stuff except to be true to my vision and true to our agenda,” he claimed.
He downplayed the many high-dollar donors in his campaign and at the fundraiser, and instead played up small donors.
“We’ve got 20 million people who got involved in the campaign, or close to it, [and] we have 4 million people who actively contributed to the campaign in five-dollar and ten-dollar and 25-dollar increments,” he said.
“We are helping to build or sustain a network of citizens … we’re promoting is the notion that if the American people are speaking out, organized, activated, that may give space here in Washington to do the kind of work — hopefully bipartisan work — that’s required,” he declared to the donors, many of whom paid $50,000 to hear him speak at the Adour restaurant at the St. Regis Hotel.
After citing his much-publicized efforts to show outreach to GOP legislators, he disparaged the motivations and actions of the GOP legislators.
“The truth of the matter is all I’ve been doing is just calling up folks and trying to see if we can break through some of the gobbledygook of our politics here,” he claimed.
Obama also dismissed GOP legislators’ judgment that his outreach, hard-edged campaigning and new OFA pressure group are not intended to craft bipartisan compromises, but to help Obama win a Democratic majority in the 2014 midterm election campaign.
“The usual idea is, well, this must just be a mechanism to try to win the next election in 2014,” he acknowledged. But “what we’ve tried to explain to people is, is that, no, I actually just want to govern — at least for a couple of years — (laughter) — but I also want to make sure that the voices of ordinary people are heard in the debates that are going to be taking place,” he said, according to the transcript.
Throughout the speech, he underlined his increased focus on passing an immigration bill that would get at least 11 million illegal immigrants on a path to the voting booth by 2030 or sooner, and provide many additional foreign workers for companies.
Roughly 20 million Americans are already unemployed or underemployed and increasingly dependent on federal aid.
“Since the election … We have seen that there’s actually a bipartisan commitment — at least in the Senate — to potentially overhaul our immigration system so that we can continue to attract the best and brightest from around the world,” he said, in one of four references to his immigration push.
But also repeatedly declared that the group is intended to push and pull legislators to support his policies in the face of constituent opposition.
“The politics of a lot of these issues are tough, and members sometimes are scared about making the right decisions,” he said.