RICHMOND, Va. — The White House launched a full-court press Friday to rally public support behind President Barack Obama's new jobs plan, dispatching the president to the backyard of one of his most obstructive Republican nemeses and flooding reporters with emails praising the plan from mayors, governors, lawmakers and union and business leaders across the country.
On Capitol Hill, civility mostly reigned. Members of Congress suggested that there's room for common ground, even as some Republicans cautioned that they hadn't yet seen the details of a bill that they suggested is as much about saving Obama's job as anyone else's.
Fresh from urging Congress to "pass the bill" — a phrase he uttered 17 times in a 33-minute speech Thursday night — Obama pressed the crowd for help at a spirited college rally, saying he wanted them to call, email, tweet, fax, Facebook or "send a carrier pigeon" to members of Congress, urging them to back his $447 billion package.
"I want you to tell your congressperson, the time for gridlock and games is over," he told an enthusiastic crowd of 8,900 at the University of Richmond. "The time for action is now. The time to create jobs is now."
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The University of Richmond sits squarely in the congressional district of one of his chief GOP sparring partners: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. The Virginia Republican — who held his own jobs event later Friday in his district — struck a conciliatory tone Friday.
A few hours after Obama spoke, Cantor appeared at Titan America, a heavy building materials company in Richmond, and vowed cooperation — but also urged the president not to urge Congress to simply pass one big bill.
"Last night, the president was insistent to pass his bill — and there is no bill yet — but all or nothing hasn't worked in Washington over last eight months. Let's try a better way. Let's admit that good people can disagree, but not let those disagreements get in the way of finding agreement and actually getting results," Cantor said. "I am committed to working with the president and the other party to help people get back to work here in this region, in the commonwealth and throughout the country."
Obama — criticized by some allies for not negotiating more firmly with Republicans over lifting the federal debt ceiling earlier this summer — welcomed Cantor's warm tone, telling the crowd that "to their credit, I was glad to hear some Republicans, including your congressman, say that they see room for us to work together."
One woman shouted, "Don't trust them."
Obama laughed. "I know that folks sometime think they've used up benefit of the doubt," he said. "But I'm an eternal optimist."
Recent polls have shown growing disillusionment with Obama, even among his base supporters, and some of them at the school said they were heartened by the feisty tone of his speech before Congress.
"He really wanted to exert leadership in ways we hadn't seen in awhile," said Hossein Sadid, vice president for business and finance at the university. "He struck a middle-of-the-road stance, but he was forceful."
"It was good to see him fighting back a little bit," said Susan Sadid, wearing an Obama 2012 sticker.
Back in Washington, members of Congress were conciliatory in tone, but there was little support from Republicans, who control the House of Representatives and have 47 of the 100 Senate seats. Many said they weren't yet sure exactly what Obama is proposing.
"It's impossible to say how the speaker feels about the (jobs) bill until we see a bill," said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Lawmakers had lots of questions: How will Obama pay for his plan? Would his plan somehow be attached to the work of the bipartisan 12-member congressional "supercommittee" that has until Nov. 23 to recommend at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years in deficit reduction?
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters that Obama will present a detailed plan next week, along with a way to pay for it. Carney said he'd ask the congressional committee tackling the deficit to cut deeper to pay for the jobs package.
Obama told the crowd in Virginia that he'd release a more ambitious deficit reduction plan in 10 days that would call for cutting spending, raising taxes on the wealthiest and closing loopholes.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat and member of the supercommittee, suggested that it could find a way to pay for Obama's job plan as it identifies long-term deficit cuts.
Speaking to CBS News, Van Hollen noted that Obama has said that the "fastest and most effective way to reduce the deficit is to get people back to work and to get the economy moving again. Because every day that the economy is stalled is another day that not only are American families hurting, but it's another day that the deficit gets bigger and bigger.
"So we can do two things at once," Van Hollen said. "We can walk and chew gum. We can move to get the economy going — that will reduce the deficit — and come up with a long-term deficit plan that gets above $1.5 trillion."
Republicans were less optimistic.
Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., the Republican Policy Committee chair, noted that he believes Obama's economic policies "haven't worked" but said that "we're glad to work with him."
However, he and others said they're wary that Obama's plan has more to do with saving his own job.
"The White House strategy is to try to box congressional Republicans into a corner and say, 'If you don't support what I proposed tonight, because so many of these things have been supported by some of you in the past, then you clearly don't want to solve the problem,'" Price said. "I think that's flawed thinking, but that's his strategy and that's all he's got left, I guess."
Later Friday, House Republican leaders sent Obama a letter saying they "look forward" to getting legislative language detailing his ideas.
"We share your desire for bipartisan cooperation, and assume that your ideas were not presented as an all-or-nothing proposition, but rather in anticipation that the Congress may also have equally as effective proposals to offer for consideration," said the leaders' letter.
They pledged that the House and its committees "will immediately begin the process of reviewing and considering" his plan.
Outright resistance surfaced to some of his proposals. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, was unenthusiastic about plans for an infrastructure bank to help provide financing for road, bridge and other public works projects.
"I don't like the idea of a national bank," he said. "People don't need to parade to Washington on bended knee for this help."
Price was critical of one key section of Obama's plan — extending and expanding a rollback of the employee payroll tax. "It's not a sound policy because the financial responsibility for which the payroll tax is collected doesn't go away," Price said.
Beneath the skepticism, though, was a tone markedly different from the anger that has characterized nearly every debate this year. Instead, lawmakers routinely spoke of the need to find common ground.
"I feel a tremendous consensus building," said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. "I think both (sides) understand that creating that long-term environment where people have confidence that we've actually dealt with this country's problems (is important)."
The White House's public relations campaign included a conference call with three Southern mayors and a briefing for regional reporters about how the plan would benefit their home states and communities, especially by rebuilding schools and employing teachers.
The effort illustrates the White House strategy behind Obama's vow Thursday night to take the plan to every corner of the country and to portray Republicans as blocking progress on fixing the economy.
Next week, he takes his campaign to Columbus, Ohio — home state of Speaker Boehner, and to Raleigh-Durham, N.C. Both states, like Virginia, his Friday destination, are expected to be key swing states in the 2012 presidential election.
(Erika Bolstad of the Washington Bureau contributed.)
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