But accolades to his Democratic colleagues aside, Obama refrained from lobbing partisan barbs at Republicans in his remarks on Wednesday, which were closed to cameras but open to a small group of reporters. Instead, Obama implored donors to get behind candidates who see eye to eye with him on climate change, research spending, public works projects and early childhood education.
"I'm going to need some help," Obama said.
The rhetoric was not so inclusive from Israel, the House Democrats' campaign chief. After Obama spoke and reporters were ushered out, Israel described Republicans as full of "obstruction, chaos, inflexibility and intolerance," according to a campaign committee official who relayed some of his remarks.
Democrats need to pick up 17 seats next year to regain control of the House — no small feat, considering that a president's party tends to lose House seats in the midterms during a second term. In the Senate, Democrats are defending a daunting 21 seats, including seven in largely rural states where Republican Mitt Romney defeated Obama last year. Republicans must flip just six seats to claim the majority.
Vice President Joe Biden, too, is expected to play a major role in helping Democrats defeat their GOP challengers. Israel told supporters at an annual conference last month that Biden has been busy making calls to potential candidates to recruit them to run.
Republican skepticism that Obama is serious about wanting to mend fences with GOP lawmakers was bolstered earlier this year when the president, fresh off his high-intensity re-election, blasted Republicans in campaign-style events for blocking his preferred approach to averting the sequester, the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts that kicked in on March 1. Republicans say it felt like the 2012 campaign never ended, making it harder to take Obama's recent outreach at face value.
"I'll admit, it's very difficult to do both. That's why he shouldn't do both," said Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., the vice chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. "He needs to put the campaign rhetoric aside, roll up his sleeves and demonstrate a willingness to work with House Republicans on tax reform, entitlement reform and the problems driving our debt."
"I just don't get the sense that his little outreach was anything more than a charade," Griffin added.
Sara Taylor Fagen, the former political director for President George W. Bush, said there's no reason a president can't carry out his duties to his party and his country simultaneously. But she said an administration gets in trouble when the president doesn't strike the right balance or adopts too harsh a tone.
"You have an obligation to help your party win seats. You want to help them win," Fagen said. "You don't necessarily want to draw a lot of attention to the fact you're spending your evening talking about building the party."
Lederman reported from Washington.
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