By John Byrne and Kim Geiger
8:19 AM EDT, May 30, 2013
President Barack Obama came home to Chicago on Wednesday to raise money for Democratic congressional candidates as part of his party's push to take back control of the House and preserve Democrats' majority in the Senate next year.
While potentially a tall task — presidents tend to lose ground during midterm elections — capturing the House would be a boost to Obama as he pursues his second-term agenda. During a 15-minute speech at the Hilton, Obama said he's willing to work with Republicans, but can get more done with Democrats in charge of the House.
"If day in, day out, what we confront is obstructionism for the sake of obstructionism, and what appears to be an interest only in scoring political points or placating a base as opposed to trying to advance the interests of the American people, then we've got to figure out a way to work around that," the president said. "And one of the best ways to work around it is to have a Democratic House of Representatives.
"We've got a politics that's stuck right now. The reason it's stuck is because people spend more time thinking about the next election than they do the next generation."
The president faces no more elections, but with some fellow Democrats criticizing him in the past for not focusing enough on the party's strength in Congress, Obama has promised to be more involved in the fundraising push this time out. The president intends to hold at least eight fundraisers for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Joining Obama on Wednesday were House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., the DCCC chairman, who got a birthday eve serenade from Obama and the Hilton audience. Democrats would need a net gain of 17 seats to claim a House majority. Democrats also have to defend a 53-47 majority in the Senate.
The fundraising is part of a broader strategy by Obama's team. After his 2012 re-election, members of the president's campaign organization retooled to form Organizing For Action, a nonprofit dedicated to raising money to get his agenda passed and supporting issues backed by Obama and Democratic congressional candidates.
The DCCC declined to release fundraising estimates. At the Hilton, about 100 supporters were on hand at a reception where tickets started at $1,000 each and topped out at $5,000 for two tickets and a photo.
From there, Obama headed to the Streeterville home of longtime supporters Bettylu and Paul Saltzman. Tickets there ran from $10,000 for dinner and photo to $50,000 for a table, photo and preferred seating.
Speaking to about 60 supporters there, Obama kept up his criticism of Republicans during his speech but also acknowledged how tough it will be to retake the House.
"Frankly, the way gerrymandering now works, and the geographical distribution of the population, makes winning back the House a challenge. But, know what? Me winning the presidency was a challenge."
While reciting a litany of difficulties the country still faces, Obama localized his pitch for gun control, noting Chicago's problems with street violence.
"There are still kids just a few miles from here who are threatened by gun violence, who aren't in a school that is giving them what they need to compete in this 21st century, and whose prospects are dim, if we're honest, not because they don't have the innate capacity, but because we as a society have decided that's not our priority," Obama said.
Earlier at the Hilton, the president also talked sports, saying his remarks would be brief because of the Blackhawks' Game 7 playoff contest at the United Center. He also said he expects the White Sox to win the Crosstown Classic.
"I'm not a Cubs hater, I'm just saying," Obama said. "I think the Sox will win."
The Sox, however, lost again to the Cubs on Wednesday.
After the fundraisers, Obama was to head to the Kenwood neighborhood to spend the night in his home.
Before the president's arrival, about a dozen people protesting the Obama administration's policies on deportations were arrested outside the Hilton. The eight female and four male protesters arrested were part of the Immigration Youth Justice League, according to a Chicago Police Department spokesman.
More than 100 demonstrators waved signs and chanted outside the hotel late Wednesday afternoon. About half had gathered to express frustration with ongoing deportations of immigrants and with the immigration bill that is pending in Congress. Others waved red signs opposing the Keystone XL Pipeline. And about a dozen abortion-rights foes also were on hand.
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