Obama Pitches Volunteers to Help Rally Support for Agenda

Obama will deliver an economic speech in Illinois this week.

(Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

President Barack Obama addresses an Organizing for Action (OFA) summit in Washington, D.C.

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President Barack Obama told former campaign staffers and volunteers now working for a group aimed at building grassroots support for White House policies that their work was less flashy but just as important as campaigning, during a gathering at the Mandarin Hotel in Washington Monday night.

Obama joked to the members of Organizing for Action that while he appreciated their help in 2008 and 2012 – and that winning was good – it was only part of the process to achieving change.

"In some ways, what we've done is clear away the rubble of this incredible crisis that we went through," he said, focusing on economic issues. "The ground beneath our feet is a little firmer than it was, but we've got a long way to go before middle-class families feel secure and before those who are willing to strive to get into the middle class have more ladders or opportunity."

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Noting that the U.S. has created 7.2 jobs over the last 40 months – the fastest job growth since 1999 – Obama acknowledged what many economists have: that the recovery has been fairly stagnant and many are still unemployed or underemployed and those with a job have seen little wage growth.

Obama said he was going to speak in Galesburg, Ill. – where in 2005 he gave one of his first speeches following his election to the U.S. Senate – to shift the political focus back to the economy. Many pundits and Republicans scoffed when the White House announced his plan Monday, as this is not the first time Obama has referenced pivoting back to the economy from something else. Of late, immigration reform and selling the benefits of the Affordable Care Act have taken center stage.

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"It's going to be the kickoff to what is essentially several months of us trying to get Washington and the press to refocus on the economy and the struggles that middle-class families are going through," Obama said. "But also for us to start exploring some big and bold ideas, some of which I've offered in the past, some of which will be new but allow us to consistently, steadily make progress."

Obama promised it would be a "pretty good speech" but said he had no disillusions about his ability to wrangle Congress into action.

"So we've got to get folks activated and involved," he said. "And, ultimately, what you do day to day, away from the TV cameras, that's what is going to make a powerful difference."

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He also called on OFA members to work to build support for top agenda items already in motion, such as immigration reform, the health care law and climate change.

"I've got a little over 1,200 days left in office; I am going to spend every waking minute of every one of those days thinking about and then acting upon any good ideas out there that are going to help ordinary Americans succeed," Obama said.

"I hope that's how you're going to spend your time. Because if you do, I guarantee you we will continue to make progress and we will deliver on everything that we talked about in 2008 and 2012.

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