With his job approval rating at a low ebb and his policy agenda stymied in Congress, President Barack Obama is trying again to show a common touch and convince more Americans that he is still fighting for their interests.
The latest move in Obama's empathy campaign will come Thursday when he plans to meet with a mother identified by White House officials as "Rebekah" of Minneapolis. She wrote to the president to explain her day-to-day economic problems; he read the letter and decided to reach out to everyday people like her around the country.
In a YouTube video, the president reads aloud from Rebekah's correspondence: "I know staying silent about what you see and what needs changing never makes any difference so I'm writing you to let you know what it's like for us in the middle of the country and I hope you will listen."
Obama then looks up from the letter and says, "I think it's going to be wonderful for me to let Rebekah know not only am I listening [but] that she's not alone out there. There are actually policies out there that could end up making a difference in her life if we could get Washington to work on her behalf."
In addition to the meeting with Rebekah in the Minneapolis area, Obama also plans to attend a private fundraiser in the vicinity Thursday night.
Dan Pfeiffer, a senior Obama adviser, added in an email to reporters and Obama supporters: "When the president travels to Minnesota, he'll launch the first in a series of day-in-the-life visits across the country this summer. He'll spend a day with Rebekah – and he'll meet with her family and community members to discuss the issues that matter to them, host a town hall and talk about the steps we need to take as a country to help more Americans like Rebekah get ahead. So all this summer, he'll meet with folks who've written in to share what their lives are like."
Obama also emphasized the theme of empathy in an interview with CNN. It was aired this week in conjunction with a Working Families Summit in Washington in which Obama and first lady Michelle Obama participated. The event was designed to underscore the economic problems that middle class families face.
"Every single day, there are conversations around the kitchen table where people are trying to figure out, this child care is costing so much, I'm not sure that we're going to be able to make our mortgage at the end of the month, ' the president told CNN. "There are folks who are saying, 'Little Johnny is sick, but if I don't show up at my job, because I don't have paid family leave, we're not going to be able to pay the electricity bill.'"
Among his priorities, Obama said, are to provide paid family leave and to make sure that women make equal pay for equal work with men.
Republican strategists say Obama's focus on these issues is partly a political tactic to generate support from women in this November's midterm elections, when control of Congress will be at stake. Only about 40 to 45 percent of Americans approve of Obama's job performance, according to various polls, and this could hurt fellow Democrats in November unless Obama changes the dynamic.