WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will urge Congress to get to work this week on passing pieces of his larger, now-defunct jobs bill during a three-day bus tour through North Carolina and Virginia, two southern states that will be critical to his re-election campaign.
The two-state swing, which kicks off Monday in Asheville, N.C., is Obama's latest attempt to combine campaigning for his jobs bill with campaigning for his re-election. While he has pledged to travel the country pitching his plans to get Americans back to work, his stops have focused heavily on political swing states, underscoring the degree to which what happens with the economy is tied to Obama's re-election prospects.
The bus tour comes as the fight over Obama's jobs proposals enters a new phase. The president's efforts to get his entire $447 billion bill passed were blocked by Senate Republicans, leaving Obama and his Democratic allies to push for the proposals contained in the bill to be passed piece by piece.
That means the president's rallying cry this week could go from "Pass this bill" to "Pass these bills."
"Although Congress is adopting a piece-by-piece approach, the president believes that every single piece should pass, and that at the end of the day we should have all of the components of the American Jobs Act passed through the Congress so the president can sign them, even if that means that he has to sign multiple pieces of legislation," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
Despite Obama's calls for urgency, it appears the lawmakers may not take up individual components of the president's bill until November, at the earliest. The Senate is set to debate appropriations bills this week, and lawmakers have a scheduled break at the end of the month.
Earnest said Obama wants Congress to first act on a provision calling for $35 billion in assistance to states and local governments to hire or prevent laying off teachers and first responders. He also wants lawmakers to pass $50 billion in new spending on infrastructure.
Obama's stops on the bus trip are designed to highlight those aspects of his plan, including his first stop at the Ashville Regional Airport, where the White House says government funds could be used to renovate a runway and create construction jobs.
The president will also speak at community colleges, high schools and a firehouse as he travels through North Carolina and Virginia this week.
Both states are traditionally Republican leaning, but changing demographics and a boost in voter turnout among young people and African-Americans helped Obama carry them in 2008.
But nearly three years after his historic election, the president's approval ratings in both states are sagging, in line with the national trend.
A Quinnipiac University poll out earlier this month put Obama's approval rating in Virginia at 45 percent, with 52 percent disapproving. The same poll showed 83 percent of Virginians were dissatisfied with the direction of the country. In North Carolina, Obama has a 42 percent approval rating, according to an Elon University poll conducted this month. Most national polls put Obama's approval rating in the mid- to low-40s.
The conservative advocacy group American Crossroads planned to run television ads in both states during Obama's trip, criticizing the president's jobs proposals as a second round of stimulus spending.
The president will be ditching Air Force One for much of his trip this week, traveling instead on a $1.1 million bus purchased by the Secret Service. The impenetrable-looking bus is painted all black, with dark tinted windows and flashing red and blue lights. Obama first used the custom-made bus during a similar road trip in August, when he traveled through Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois.